North Carolina researchers improve stacked solar cell connections

Researchers from North Carolina State University have managed to improve the connections between stacked solar cells, which could improve the overall efficiency of solar energy devices and reduce the cost of solar energy production.

The new connections can allow these cells to operate at solar concentrations of 70,000 suns worth of energy without losing much voltage as “wasted energy” or heat, according to the university.

Stacked solar cells consist of several solar cells that are stacked on top of one another. Stacked cells are currently the most efficient cells on the market, converting up to 45% of the solar energy they absorb into electricity.

To be effective, however, solar cell designers need to ensure the connecting junctions between these stacked cells do not absorb any of the solar energy and do not siphon off the voltage the cells produce – effectively wasting that energy as heat, according to the university.

"We have discovered that by inserting a very thin film of gallium arsenide into the connecting junction of stacked cells we can virtually eliminate voltage loss without blocking any of the solar energy," said Salah Bedair, a professor of electrical engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work.

The work is significant, the university points out, because photovoltaic energy companies are interested in using lenses to concentrate solar energy, from one sun (no lens) to 4,000 suns or more. Yet if the solar energy is significantly intensified – to 700 suns or more – the connecting junctions used in existing stacked cells begin losing voltage. The more intense the solar energy, the more voltage those junctions lose – thereby reducing the conversion efficiency.

"Now we have created a connecting junction that loses almost no voltage, even when the stacked solar cell is exposed to 70,000 suns of solar energy," Bedair said. "And that is more than sufficient for practical purposes, since concentrating lenses are unlikely to create more than 4,000 or 5,000 suns worth of energy. This discovery means that solar cell manufacturers can now create stacked cells that can handle these high-intensity solar energies without losing voltage at the connecting junctions, thus potentially improving conversion efficiency.

"This should reduce overall costs for the energy industry because, rather than creating large, expensive solar cells, you can use much smaller cells that produce just as much electricity by absorbing intensified solar energy from concentrating lenses. And concentrating lenses are relatively inexpensive," Bedair added.