PV design optimization

Photovoltaics provide a promising energy technology with a vast resource base and a history of rapid improvement. This work centers on photovoltaics’ design and cost evolution. Papers address detailed design features, as well as decomposing the cost components of photovoltaic electricity. We are combining the development of new quantitative decomposition models with detailed knowledge of solar energy conversion materials and devices.

Decomposition of the cost of photovoltaics: Photovoltaic cells have shown the most significant cost reductions of any electricity conversion technology. Understanding why this rapid improvement has occurred is important to understanding how to sustain it (and accelerate it) in the future. We are working to evaluate competing explanations for the dramatic cost reductions realized by photovoltaics (PV) over the last 30 years. Combining data analysis with theory development, we aim to identify the factors that best explain the extreme improvement seen by PV. From our findings, we will extract practical guidelines to help facilitate PVs continued high rate of improvement in the future.

  • Trancik JE, Zweibel K, Technology choice and the cost reduction potential of photovoltaics, Proceedings of the World Conference on Photovoltaic Energy Conversion, IEEE WCPEC – 4, 2006, Vol. 2, pp. 2490-2493 pdf.
  • Kavlak G, McNerny J, Trancik JE, Evaluating the changing causes of photovoltaics cost reduction, in review SSRN.

PV materials design optimization: This work examines changing performance tradeoffs in photovoltaics through materials structuring. We focus on the dye-sensitized solar cell as a model device, with the aim of producing a general framework that can be applied to a wide range of devices.

In one paper we demonstrate that carbon nanotube films can be structured to tailor their catalytic strength, transparency and sheet resistance. This work has shown that through processing, it is possible to introduce defects to greatly enhance the catalytic strength while simultaneously manipulating the tube length and orientation to increase the transparency-to-sheet-resistance ratio. These electrode materials can be used in a dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC) as well as batteries, fuel cells and sensors.

  • Trancik JE, Calabrese Barton S, Hone J, Transparent and catalytic carbon nanotube films, Nano Letters, 2008, Vol. 8, pp. 982-987 pdf.

In another project, we developed a simple and inexpensive technique for introducing a hierarchical pore structure in nanoparticle networks of a semiconductor (titanium dioxide) to tailor its light interaction properties while optimizing the transport paths, surface area and total porosity. This technique can be applied to the DSSC as well as to batteries and photocatalytic sensors.