What is PV Cell and Module Design?

Photovoltaic (PV) devices contain semiconducting materials that convert sunlight into electrical energy. A single PV device is known as a cell, and these cells are connected together in chains to form larger units known as modules or panels. Research into cell and module design allows PV technologies to become more sophisticated, reliable, and efficient. Research in this topic area covers more traditional technologies like crystalline silicon, cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), and III-V PV. This research also focuses on improving solar cell architectures for emerging PV technologies  like perovskites, organic PV, and other technologies that are approximately 10-15 years away from entering the marketplace. Learn more about how PV technology works.

Why is PV Cell and Module Design Important?

Conducting research on PV cell and module design aims to deliver technologies that drive down the costs of solar electricity by improving PV efficiency and lowering manufacturing costs while maintaining or increasing module lifetime. This research will open the solar market to more diversified products by investigating and refining technologies that are in earlier stages of development. Research in this topic supports the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technology Office (SETO) goals of improving the affordability, performance, and value of solar technologies on the grid and meeting cost targets of $0.03 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for utility-scale PV, $0.04 per kWh for commercial PV, and $0.05 per kWh for residential PV. Learn more about SETO’s goals.

SETO Research in PV Cell and Module Design

SETO’s research and development projects for PV cell and module technologies aim to improve efficiency and reliability, lower manufacturing costs, and drive down the cost of solar electricity on a 3- to 15-year horizon. Device research in the portfolio includes advanced versions of silicon, thin-film, and III-V cells, as well as tandem concepts combining two different photovoltaic materials. SETO’s research in this topic also includes advanced module packaging, new photovoltaic absorbers, and innovative methods of making electrical contact in a cell. Several of SETO’s funding programs have projects that focus on PV cell and module design:

  • Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2019 funding program – improving the performance, cost, and reliability of technologies currently on the market, working with new materials that can lower the cost of PV-generated electricity, and exploring ways to increase the lifetime energy output from PV arrays.
  • Solar Energy Technologies Office Lab Call FY19-21 funding program – increasing the efficiency of PV cells, lowering material and process costs for PV manufacturing, and improving the reliability and durability of PV modules.
  • Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2018 funding program – advancing early-stage research to increase performance, reduce materials and processing costs, and improve reliability of PV cells, modules, and systems.
  • Durable Module Materials (DuraMat) Laboratory Consortium – accelerating the development and deployment of durable, high-performance materials for PV modules to lower the cost of electricity generated by solar power while increasing field lifetime.

To view specific PV cell and module design projects, search the Solar Energy Research Database.

Additional Resources

Learn more about PV research, other solar energy research in SETO, and current and former funding programs.