I had the opportunity to go to PVSC 39 in Tampa, Florida with fellow Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP). There were a lot of interesting speeches but I will only focus on a couple of them here – particularly those focusing on CdTe thin films progress. CdTe is one of the most attractive materials for production of low cost thin film solar modules [1]. The record efficiency for CdTe solar cells has been established to be 16.7% for 10 years. In the past 2 years, the CdTe record was broken several times and increased from 16.7% to 18.7%. However, there has been no significant change in the open-circuit voltage which was in the range of 840-860 mV for over 20 years. Many arguments have been made to justify the apparent Voc limitation, most frequently: poor hetero-interface with CdS, the difficulty in doping polycrystalline CdTe, midgap defect levels, or non-uniformities at the nano- or micro-scale. Paths for open-circuit voltage above 900 mV are:

  • Doping: Increasing doping level of CdTe is believed to increase the built-in potential and reduce recombination at the back-surface. Present doping levels are of the order 1014 /cm3 and different ways are proposed to increase them.
  • Lifetime: Higher lifetime(s) are expected to be a sign of less recombination in the junction and quasi-neutral region, and, hence, improved Voc and carrier collection. With higher lifetime, it is expected that a greater fraction of the recombination may occur at the back-contact due to increased electron diffusion through the absorber.

Gloeckler from First Solar announced a new record efficiency of 19.1% for CdTe, although not yet certified by NREL.

Despite these promising results, the gap between solar cell and module efficiencies is still wide (3-5%) [2]. This so-called “solar gap” constitutes a major challenge for commercial viability of photovoltaics. One explanation, proposed by M. Alam and his group at the University of Purdue, says that the “solar gap” is due to the monolithic series connection of thin films that causes shunt leakage current. Analysis of the shunt leakage current show that an I-V curve can be modeled by the diode equation and the shunt current, which has a non-linear relation with the voltage, as shown in Fig. 1. It was shown by Alam et al, that as a consequence of the series connection of cells, large shunts have a twofold impact on module performance. First, they modify the operating point of their neighboring good sub-cells, thereby lowering their output power. Second, a large fraction of this (already reduced) power, generated by the neighbours, is consumed by the shunted sub-cell. Interestingly this phenomenon is not unique to CdTe photovoltaics but more of a universal phenomenon and studies on CdTe, CIGS, OPV and amorphous silicon thin films show the same behaviour. At PVSC they have described a post-deposition scribing technique for electrically isolating these distributed shunts in monolithic thin film PV modules. The localized scribes minimize the losses due to defective shunts by restricting lateral current drain from its (otherwise defect-free) neighbors.

Figure 1 of Ahmed's blog

Fig. 1 Measured IDark (squares) can be represented by a parallel combination of diode with series resistance I (green), and a parasitic shunt component (red), with a symmetric (around V = 0) non-Ohmic voltage dependence. Reproduced from [3] with permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry.


[1] W. N. Shafarman, “What’s next for Cu(InGa)Se2 Thin Film PV: Opportunities and Challenges”, 39th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference, 2013

[2] S. Dongaonkar, M. A. Alam, “Reducing the Cell to Module Efficiency Gap in Thin Film PV using In-line Post-Process Scribing Isolation”, 39th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference, 2013

[3] S. Dongaonkar, S. Loser, E. J. Sheets, K. Zaunbrecher, R. Agrawal, T. J. Marks, and M. A. Alam, “Universal statistics of parasitic shunt formation in solar cells, and its implications for cell to module efficiency gap,” Energy & Environmental Science, vol. 6, pp. 782–787, 2013

Ahmed Gabr's picture

-Ahmed Gabr

Ph.D Candidate, Year 3

SUNLAB, University of Ottawa