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WIREs Energy Environ.
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High efficiency photovoltaics: on the way to becoming a major electricity source

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Abstract The dramatic growth of the photovoltaic (PV) industry—accelerated by increased economies of scale, technology improvements, research and development efforts, and strong policy support—has pushed PV to set out on its pathway to becoming a major electricity source. The speed and course of this pathway will be determined by the development of PV energy price and its relation to market electricity sales price. The current gap between PV energy price and market electricity sales is often covered by substantial government subsidies. Using the United States PV market as a case study to illustrate the need for PV energy price decline, this article details the potential contribution of high‐efficiency PV based on different materials to realize such a decline and a substantial PV electricity share. It is found that—with considerable government support—PV's electricity share in the United States can rise to 25% by 2050. In order to help the PV industry achieve significant progress without large government subsidies, more radical decline of PV system cost is necessary. As such, quantitative analysis is deployed to investigate the value of module efficiency in lowering the total PV electricity cost through a levelized cost of energy analysis. Next, the article investigates in detail the research and development opportunities for high‐efficiency PV and projects the required efficiency‐price ranges for different types of PV modules. This article is categorized under: Photovoltaics > Economics and Policy
(a) A typical reflective CPV module structure; (b) a typical refractive CPV module structure.
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Calculated efficiencies for ideal two‐terminal triple‐junction cells at 100X. The black dots are calculated using real spectrum at Golden, CO, USA in 2002. The red line is calculated under a simple assumption that air mass is the only factor that affects spectrum.
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Schematics of thin film Si growth structure using 'layer transfer‘ technology. The breaking layer has a thickness of 350 nm and a porosity of 55%; the seed layer has a thickness of 1200 nm and a porosity of 20%. The drawing is for illustration purpose but not to scale.
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LCOE as a function of module efficiency and module price. All systems are flat plate PV installations with fixed tilt at Phoenix, AZ, USA. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 24. Copyright 2011, Elsevier.)
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System cost breakdown of a representative commercial PV installation in 2010.
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Progress of solar cell efficiency records for different PV technologies. Compiled by L.L. Kazmerski, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO.
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Estimated annual subsidy for the United States based on the logistic growth model of PV installation diffusion (see Figure ) and the system price learning curve (see Figure ).
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PV system price learning curve for the United States. The learning curve (indicated as trend lin98e) is derived based on data from 1998 to 2005 because the cost over the 2006–2011 period has been influenced significantly by the temporary shortage of silicon for PV fabrication.
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US PV electricity share in the total national electricity supply: history and predictions based on two models.
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US PV installation capacity: history and predictions based on two models.
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Logistic growth model for US PV installation based on data from 1992 to 2011.,,,
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Cumulative US PV installed capacity from 1992 to 2011,, presented in a semi‐log coordinate system. Exponential growth pattern is assumed to derive two tendency lines.
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The cost‐efficiency ranges for PV modules made of different materials at a target LCOE of 10 ¢/kWh, for tracking flat plate and CPV systems.
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Cumulative US PV installed capacity from 1992 to 2011,, presented in a linear coordinate system.
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Price learning curves for PV modules and wind turbines. The data on the y‐axis for PV modules corresponds to global average price. The data on the y‐axis for wind turbines corresponds to the US case that demonstrated a good match with the worldwide case during the past 6 years.
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The cost‐efficiency ranges for PV modules made of different materials at a target LCOE of 10¢/kWh, for tracking flat plate and CPV systems, and under the assumption of 30% BOS cost reduction.
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The relationships between module cost and module efficiency at a target LCOE of 10 ¢/kWh, for fixed flat plate, tracking flat plate, and CPV systems.
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