The Future of Renewable Energy Generation: Photovoltaic Materials

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


There are myriad ways to harness solar energy, including, but not limited to: solar thermal, solar fuels, and photovoltaics (PV). Across the portfolio of solar energy technologies, PV is unique in that collected photons are directly converted to electricity. Traditionally, the dominant materials in PV are also the dominant semiconductor and optoelectronic materials. The cost of solar energy from PV is a product of a complex combination of non-material related factors, known as soft costs, e.g., permitting, zoning, and of balance-of-systems (BOS) costs, like inverters or other components needed to utilize cells and modules. While the soft costs are due to administrative/regulatory concerns, BOS costs are driven by details of cell/module fabrication, mounting, power electronics, and other concerns, which touch on a range of basic material science issues. There is some overlap of BOS and soft cost, as a lighter weight solar panel can reduce installations costs, as an example. At the PV-system level, the materials considerations span both electronic and structural components. The focus of this paper is the solar cell, which is the minimum operational unit device that converts light into electricity.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6-11
Number of pages6
JournalThe Bridge
Issue number116
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5K00-77982


  • III-V materials
  • organic PV
  • photovoltaics
  • solar
  • thin film materials


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