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Design Strategies for Ultra-High Efficiency Photovoltaics


Warmann, Emily Cathryn (2014) Design Strategies for Ultra-High Efficiency Photovoltaics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/0K8F-9871.


While concentrator photovoltaic cells have shown significant improvements in efficiency in the past ten years, once these cells are integrated into concentrating optics, connected to a power conditioning system and deployed in the field, the overall module efficiency drops to only 34 to 36%. This efficiency is impressive compared to conventional flat plate modules, but it is far short of the theoretical limits for solar energy conversion. Designing a system capable of achieving ultra high efficiency of 50% or greater cannot be achieved by refinement and iteration of current design approaches.

This thesis takes a systems approach to designing a photovoltaic system capable of 50% efficient performance using conventional diode-based solar cells. The effort began with an exploration of the limiting efficiency of spectrum splitting ensembles with 2 to 20 sub cells in different electrical configurations. Incorporating realistic non-ideal performance with the computationally simple detailed balance approach resulted in practical limits that are useful to identify specific cell performance requirements. This effort quantified the relative benefit of additional cells and concentration for system efficiency, which will help in designing practical optical systems.

Efforts to improve the quality of the solar cells themselves focused on the development of tunable lattice constant epitaxial templates. Initially intended to enable lattice matched multijunction solar cells, these templates would enable increased flexibility in band gap selection for spectrum splitting ensembles and enhanced radiative quality relative to metamorphic growth. The III-V material family is commonly used for multijunction solar cells both for its high radiative quality and for the ease of integrating multiple band gaps into one monolithic growth. The band gap flexibility is limited by the lattice constant of available growth templates. The virtual substrate consists of a thin III-V film with the desired lattice constant. The film is grown strained on an available wafer substrate, but the thickness is below the dislocation nucleation threshold. By removing the film from the growth substrate, allowing the strain to relax elastically, and bonding it to a supportive handle, a template with the desired lattice constant is formed. Experimental efforts towards this structure and initial proof of concept are presented.

Cells with high radiative quality present the opportunity to recover a large amount of their radiative losses if they are incorporated in an ensemble that couples emission from one cell to another. This effect is well known, but has been explored previously in the context of sub cells that independently operate at their maximum power point. This analysis explicitly accounts for the system interaction and identifies ways to enhance overall performance by operating some cells in an ensemble at voltages that reduce the power converted in the individual cell. Series connected multijunctions, which by their nature facilitate strong optical coupling between sub-cells, are reoptimized with substantial performance benefit.

Photovoltaic efficiency is usually measured relative to a standard incident spectrum to allow comparison between systems. Deployed in the field systems may differ in energy production due to sensitivity to changes in the spectrum. The series connection constraint in particular causes system efficiency to decrease as the incident spectrum deviates from the standard spectral composition. This thesis performs a case study comparing performance of systems over a year at a particular location to identify the energy production penalty caused by series connection relative to independent electrical connection.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:photovoltaics, multijunction, spectrum splitting, energy production, epitaxial growth
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Mechanical Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
Thesis Committee:
  • Bhattacharya, Kaushik (chair)
  • Greer, Julia R.
  • Minnich, Austin J.
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
Defense Date:9 May 2014
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Department of EnergyDE-FG36-08GO18071/003
National Science Foundation1041895
Advanced Research Projects Agency - EnergyDE-AR0000333
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06052014-163757869
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8489
Deposited By: Emily Warmann
Deposited On:06 Jun 2014 22:18
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:12

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