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Solar Photovoltaic Cells
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Solar Photovoltaic Cells: Photons to Electricity outlines our need for photovoltaics - a field which is exploding in popularity and importance. This concise book provides a thorough understanding of solar photovoltaic cells including how these devices work, what can be done to optimize the technology, and future trends in the marketplace. This book contains a detailed and logical step-by-step explanation of thermodynamically-consistent solar cell operating physics, a comparison of advanced multi-junction CPV power plants versus combined-cycle thermal power plants in the framework of energy cascading, and a discussion of solar cell semiconductor resource limitations and the scalability of solar electricity as we move forward. Quantitative examples allow the reader to understand the scope of solar PV and the challenges and opportunities of producing clean electricity.

Provides a compact and focused discussion of solar photovoltaics and solar electricity generation. Helps you understand the limits of solar PV and be able to predict future trends. Quantitative examples help you grasp the scope of solar PV and the challenges and opportunities of producing electricity from a renewable resource.
Published: Academic Press an imprint of Elsevier Books Reference on
ISBN: 9780128026038
List price: $68.95
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Solar Photovoltaic Cells

Photons to Electricity

Alexander P. Kirk

Arizona State University Tempe, Arizona, USA

Table of Contents


Title page





Chapter 1: Energy Demand and Solar Electricity


1.1. Introduction

1.2. Human-sunlight connection

1.3. Human energy requirement

1.4. Electricity generation in the USA

1.5. Global electricity generation

Chapter 2: From Nuclear Fusion to Sunlight


2.1. Introduction

2.2. The massive sun

2.3. Nuclear fusion sequence

2.4. Solar neutrinos

2.5. Quantum mechanical tunneling

2.6. Radiant power

2.7. From core to photosphere

2.8. Long-distance travel

2.9. TSI

2.10. Extraterrestrial spectrum

2.11. Relative air mass

2.12. Aerosols and scattering

2.13. Clouds

2.14. Direct versus global radiation

2.15. Photon flux

Chapter 3: Device Operation


3.1. Introduction

3.2. History

3.3. p–n junction cells

3.4. Bandgap versus efficiency

3.5. Photogenerated current density

3.6. Absorption coefficient

3.7. Hot-carrier relaxation

3.8. Open circuit voltage

3.9. Detailed balance

3.10. Power conversion efficiency

3.11. Free energy management

3.12. Radiative recombination coefficient and lifetime

3.13. Auger and SRH lifetime

3.14. Minority carrier diffusion length

3.15. Multiple junctions

3.16. Hot-carrier cells

3.17. Device engineering details

Chapter 4: Energy Cascading


4.1. Introduction

4.2. Combined-cycle thermal power plants

4.3. Volumetric power density

4.4. Sunlight concentration with tracking

4.5. 6J CPV cells

4.6. Cell and module losses

4.7. Efficiency trend

4.8. From six to nine subcells

4.9. Motivation to advance the technology limits

Chapter 5: Resource Demands and PV Integration


5.1. Introduction

5.2. Scalability of silicon-based PV

5.3. Scalability of cadmium telluride-based PV

5.4. Scalability of CIGS-based PV

5.5. Scalability of germanium-based CPV

5.6. Scalability of gallium arsenide-based CPV

5.7. Soft costs

5.8. Solar energy storage

5.9. Electric grid evolution

Chapter 6: Image Gallery


6.1. Introduction

Note on Technical Content Evolution

Final Remarks

Appendix A: List of Symbols

Appendix B: Abbreviations and Acronyms

Appendix C: Physical Constants

Appendix D: Conversion Factors

Appendix E: Derivation of Absorption Coefficient

Appendix F: Derivation of Open Circuit Voltage

Appendix G: Relative Efficiency Ratio

Appendix H: Recalibrating the Orthodoxy


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First published 2015

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To Joan


Only natural sunlight with its polychromatic splendor is capable of properly illuminating and revealing the beautiful and subtle colors, shapes, and textures of our environment – fields of flowers, forests, mountain peaks, waterfalls, seashores, or desert sands. And, sunlight really dazzles us with rainbows after a rain shower. All of this magnificent imagery alone is enough to compel and inspire us to ponder sunlight and wonder about ways to harness its energy. With this thought in mind, this book was written to provide an understanding of how sunlight can be used by humans to give clean electricity enabled by a fascinating solid-state energy conversion device known as the solar photovoltaic cell.

This compact book has been written for anyone interested in learning about solar photovoltaic cells. Hopefully it will succinctly reveal the usefulness of solar electricity and the beauty of solar photovoltaic cells while outlining the benefits and challenges associated with solar photovoltaic technology and widely scaled solar electricity generation.

The author is grateful for his mentor, Prof. Yong-Hang Zhang at Arizona State University, for leading numerous stimulating, enlightening, and valuable in–depth discussions on the important attributes and governing factors that are required in order to attain the most efficient and highest performance solar photovoltaic cells. The author extends his gratitude to Dr. Christian A. Gueymard at Solar Consulting Services and Prof. David K. Ferry at Arizona State University for reviewing portions of this book and offering clarifications, corrections, and suggestions for improvement. The author acknowledges Dr. Pablo Benítez at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid for helpful comments about CPV optics. The author wishes to thank his father, Prof. Wiley P. Kirk at University of Texas at Arlington, for not only many helpful comments on this book but for catalyzing his interest in solar photovoltaic cells and the science behind solid-state energy conversion devices to begin with. Additionally, the author thanks the Arizona State University Noble Science Library staff for help accessing reference books and journal articles. The author acknowledges Lisa Reading, Natasha Welford, and Anusha Sambamoorthy at Elsevier (Academic Press) for enabling this book to come to fruition and for being most helpful and a joy to work with. Finally, the author acknowledges Science Foundation Arizona’s Bisgrove Scholars program and Dr. Mary O’Reilly at the foundation for her enthusiasm and encouragement. This book could not have been written without the generous support of this scholarship while the author was at Arizona State University. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Science Foundation Arizona.

A.P. Kirk

Tempe, AZ, USA


The overarching goal of this book on solar photovoltaic cells is:

1. to motivate their existence and rationale for deployment

2. to examine the sunlight that irradiates them

3. to explain their operation

4. to benchmark their performance to combined-cycle thermal power plants

5. to investigate semiconductor raw material demands as well as issues related to scalability

The natural connection we humans already have with sunlight in our daily lives is presented in Chapter 1 where we consider how much energy we demand not just to remain alive but also to live life in our increasingly technology-dense societies. From this, the electricity demand in the USA and also globally is examined, and the amount of electricity generated from photovoltaic modules is compared to other electricity generation technologies such as coal-fired power plants and wind turbines.

Chapter 2 begins with the nuclear fusion reactions in our Sun and builds into a discussion of the solar radiation we ultimately receive here on Earth. Topics of interest include total solar irradiance and the extraterrestrial solar spectrum, air mass and atmospheric attenuation of sunlight, direct and global terrestrial solar spectra including their modeling, and solar photon flux.

A step-by-step presentation of the physics and operating characteristics of solar photovoltaic cells is presented in Chapter 3 including topics such as the relationship between bandgap energy and power conversion efficiency, detailed balance, photogenerated current density, open circuit voltage, free energy, hot carrier relaxation, and multiple junction cell architecture and its benefits.

The concept of energy cascading is invoked in Chapter 4 as a framework to compare high-performance six junction solar photovoltaic cells operating under concentrated sunlight with combined-cycle thermal power plants comprised of natural gas and steam turbines. Throughout this case study, calculations of theoretical limiting cell power conversion efficiency as well as estimates of achievable AC module efficiency are presented in order to understand not just the limits but also the capabilities of advanced multijunction cells operating under concentrated sunlight.

The purpose of Chapter 5 is to offer a brief examination of the potential scalability of solar photovoltaic cells and modules based on the following semiconductors: Si, CdTe, and CIGS (cells operating under conventional one Sun illumination) as well as Ge and GaAs (cells operating under concentrated sunlight). To a first order approximation, the amount of precious semiconductor material that will be required to achieve a relatively modest peak power output of one terawatt is investigated. Finally, soft costs, solar energy storage, and the evolution of the electric grid are discussed.

An image gallery is included near the end of the book in Chapter 6 to highlight some of the real technologies that make solar electricity possible.

Chapter 1

Energy Demand and Solar Electricity


The natural connection we humans already have with sunlight in our daily lives is presented in Chapter 1 where we consider how much energy we demand not just to remain alive but also to live life in our increasingly technology-dense societies. From this, the electricity demand in the USA and also globally is examined, and the amount