The Opto-Electronic Physics that Broke the Efficiency Limit in Solar Cells

Eli Yablonovitch, Owen D. Miller, S. R. Kurtz

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

66 Scopus Citations


The internal physics of a solar cell changes as it approaches the fundamental Shockley-Queisser limit. Photonic considerations overtake electronic ones, as an intense internal and external luminescence requires careful photon management. Counter-intuitively, maximizing light extraction increases voltage and therefore efficiency. Until 2010 the one-sun, single-junction efficiency record was set by a GaAs solar cell with an efficiency of 26.4% and an open-circuit voltage VOC= 1.03 V. Alta Devices recently improved the record with a GaAs cell that achieved 28.8% efficiency and VOC=1.12V, demonstrating the importance of photon management. Even with the best materials, the highest efficiencies cannot be achieved unless the solar cell is also designed to also be a good light emitting diode (LED). The physics of light extraction will be necessary in the next generation of high-efficiency solar cells.

Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages4
StatePublished - 2012
Event38th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference, PVSC 2012 - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: 3 Jun 20128 Jun 2012


Conference38th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference, PVSC 2012
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAustin, TX

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5200-57536


  • external luminescence
  • high efficiency
  • open-circuit voltage
  • photovoltaics
  • Shockley-Queisser


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