The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has announced the demonstration of a 45.7 percent conversion efficiency for a four-junction solar cell at 234 suns concentration. This achievement represents one of the highest photovoltaic research cell efficiencies achieved across all types of solar cells.
NREL’s new solar cell, which is designed for operation in a concentrator photovoltaic system where it can receive more than 1,000 suns of concentrated sunlight, greatly improves earlier designs by incorporating an additional high quality absorber layer to achieve an ultra-high efficiency.
Multijunction solar cells harvest sunlight by dividing the solar spectrum into portions that are absorbed by a material with a bandgap tuned to a specific wavelength range. The challenge is to maintain the high quality of the materials while integrating them into a complex cell capable of efficient photoconversion.
NREL invented and developed the advanced four-junction inverted metamorphic (4J IMM) cell with these challenges in mind. The new design consists of a gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) junction, a gallium arsenide junction, and two gallium indium arsenide junctions that are lattice-mismatched to the substrate. The cell’s peak efficiency of 45.7 ± 2.3 percent was measured under the AM1.5 direct spectrum at 234 suns concentration, but the device performs nearly as well at even higher concentrations, having 45.2 percent efficiency at 700 suns concentration.
The device has numerous other improvements over previous designs, including a broadband four-layer anti-reflection coating, a novel metamorphic tunnel junction interconnect, and unprecedented performance from the GaInP top cell. Compared to standard GaInP subcells, this subcell has both higher voltage and reduced series resistance, which is essential for high efficiency at high solar concentrations.