Advanced Light Management in Thin-Film Solar Cells

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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The coming years will see humanity facing significant challenges to ensure its continued survival. The threat of global warming to humans and the environment – exacerbated by rapidly growing population and energy demand – requires quick and decisive actions. Among them, increasing the generation of electricity from renewable resources is paramount to mitigate the effects of climate change. Photovoltaic (PV) energy conversion can be one of main technologies that propels the transition from fossil fuels towards a more sustainable future.
In recent years, the deployment of photovoltaic systems has increased at an astounding pace, with more than 100 GWp of power installed during each of the last three years. However, further expansion of PV installations cannot solely rely on increasing industrial production, but should also be supported by research aimed at increasing the efficiency of PV devices and reduce their manufacturing costs. One of the key aspects of photovoltaic energy conversion is absorption of light. By increasing the amount of solar energy that is absorbed inside PV devices, the efficiency of solar cells can be boosted. This is particularly true for thin-film structures, which due to their limited thickness struggle to effectively absorb photons. Light management indicates all the techniques aimed at maximising light absorption inside photovoltaic devices and is the main topic of this manuscript. The goal of this work is to investigate and optimise light management approaches – based on periodic structures – applied to different thin-film device technologies, and through this analysis provide guidelines for the design of photovoltaic devices and gain an insight into their optical performance.
After describing the theoretical background in chapter 1 and the methodology in chapter 2, chapter 3 begins the study of light management approaches by investigating nanowire arrays applied to thin-film nano-crystalline silicon solar cells. A proof-of-concept device was manufactured to ensure the feasibility of the proposed novel approach. Then, simulations were used to optimise the nanowire array structure. Results showed the good anti-reflective and scattering properties of nanowires, which are able to significantly boost absorption in the nano-crystalline silicon active layer.
In chapter 4, the analysis shifts to periodic metasurfaces and the achievement of perfect absorption in amorphous silicon solar cells. By tuning the size and arrangement of the dielectric nanostructures that make up the metasurface, near 100% absorption can be achieved in the spectral region where amorphous silicon struggles to efficiently absorb incident photons. With respect to flat devices the performance is significantly increased, despite a reduction of used material of more than 50%.
In chapter 5, a thorough investigation of periodic gratings for Cu(In,Ga)Se2 solar cells (CIGS) is carried out, complete with the selection of appropriate supporting materials to reduce the device thickness with a minimal sacrifice in performance. The accuracy of 3-dimensional rigorous modelling in predicting the performance of real CIGS devices was demonstrated for the first time. Then, a full study of 1-D and 2-D gratings was conducted – together with an analysis of device architectures that employ more transparent materials at the front and highly reflective metals at the back side. Results showed a marked increase in light absorption, mostly owing to a lower device reflectance and to reduced parasitic absorption in all supporting layers. The high optical performance was maintained when the thickness of the CIGS layer was reduced by 60%, which is crucial to reduce the utilisation of indium in the device and of the costs associated with it.
In chapter 6, the concept of front/back pyramidal textures with different geometries is introduced and fully explored. Its application to (nano-)crystalline silicon absorbers or to supporting layers is compared, showing a preference for the former. After careful study of the decoupled texture geometry, an optimised
optical performance beyond the traditional Lambertian scattering limit was achieved.
In chapter 7 the concept of double front and back textures is analysed further, by applying it to cheap and abundant barium silicide (BaSi2). The optical potential of of this novel PV material was first characterised with spectroscopy measurements, then assessed in both single- and multi-junction configurations with the aid of rigorous optical simulations. Results showed that BaSi2 outperforms thin-film silicon absorbers, owing to its higher absorption coefficient. This highlights the promise of this novel material, which can be an ideal candidate for both single- and double-junction thin-film devices.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Zeman, M., Supervisor
  • Isabella, O., Supervisor
Award date16 Nov 2020
Print ISBNs978-94-6421-111-5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Photovoltaic
  • Thin Film
  • Solar Cells
  • Light Management
  • CIGS
  • Barium Silicide
  • Perfect Absorption
  • Nanowires


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