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Photovoltaics Research and Development

The Photovoltaics (PV) subprogram funds research and development that is critical to continued advances in solar cell and module technology. These advances enable lower costs, increased efficiency and improved reliability to support the widespread deployment of electricity produced directly from sunlight (“photovoltaics”). The PV portfolio includes research directed toward the SunShot Initiative goals as well as critical challenges beyond SunShot.

To meet the SunShot Initiative goal of an unsubsidized, utility-scale PV system cost of $1/Watt and to attain a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of $0.06/kWh by 2020, the PV program targets a module cost of $0.50/W (including margin).

While module costs have decreased dramatically since the start of the SunShot Initiative, an additional 1/3 cost reduction is necessary. Further, increases in module efficiency enable decreases in the balance of systems costs.

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As the goals of the SunShot Initiative come within sight, the PV subprogram aims to address the next generation of challenges to support increased PV deployment, including improvements in module lifetime and degradation rate, life cycle sustainability, as well as further reductions in the cost of PV modules.  We also support the development of a skilled and diverse workforce of researchers prepared to address current and future challenges in the PV field. Accordingly, the PV portfolio spans work from early-stage solar cell research until the point of commercialization.  It includes work on materials, processes, and device structure and characterization techniques. Just a few examples of our projects include a combinatorial approach to find new earth abundant absorber materials, new silicon solar cell structures using organic and metal oxide heterojunctions, high efficiency III-V on Si multijunction solar cells, the development of a two-photon photoluminescence technique to separate bulk and surface lifetimes in thin films, and model systems for CdTe and CZTS solar cells to probe fundamental efficiency limits. 

The PV subprogram helps to maintain U.S. leadership in PV R&D, with a strong record of impact over the past several decades.  For example, over one half of the solar cell efficiency records on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s chart were supported by the PV subprogram and its predecessors.


The projects in the portfolio currently represent roughly $180 million of investment, made over periods from two to five years. About half of the funding ($94,500,000 for FY13-15) is National Laboratory R&D through the Annual Operating Plan at the National Center for Photovoltaics (NCPV) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). This funding to NREL represents a sustained commitment to high impact research and expertise across PV technologies, including thin films, silicon, III-V materials, performance testing, characterization, organic photovoltaics (OPVs), and new material development.  The remaining funding in the PV portfolio is primarily awarded through our competitive funding opportunity announcement (FOA) process to universities, national laboratories and industry.  Details about these programs and projects can be found here.

These pages provide more information about  key photovoltaic technologies: