Traditional single-junction cells have a maximum theoretical efficiency of 33.16%. Theoretically, an infinite number of junctions would have a limiting efficiency of 86.8% under highly concentrated sunlight.
Currently, the best lab examples of traditional crystalline silicon solar cells have efficiencies between 20% and 25%, while lab examples of multi-junction cells have demonstrated performance over 46% under concentrated sunlight. Commercial examples of tandem cells are widely available at 30% under one-sun illumination, and improve to around 40% under concentrated sunlight. However, this efficiency is gained at the cost of increased complexity and manufacturing price. To date, their higher price and higher price-to-performance ratio have limited their use to special roles, notably in aerospace where their high power-to-weight ratio is desirable. In terrestrial applications, these solar cells are emerging in concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), with a growing number of installations around the world.
Tandem fabrication techniques have been used to improve the performance of existing designs. In particular, the technique can be applied to lower cost thin-film solar cells using amorphous silicon, as opposed to conventional crystalline silicon, to produce a cell with about 10% efficiency that is lightweight and flexible. This approach has been used by several commercial vendors, but these products are currently limited to certain niche roles, like roofing materials.
Traditional photovoltaic cells are commonly composed of doped silicon with metallic contacts deposited on the top and bottom. The doping is normally applied to a thin layer on the top of the cell, producing a pn-junction with a particular bandgap energy, Eg.
Photons that hit the top of the solar cell are either reflected or transmitted into the cell. Transmitted photons have the potential to give their energy, hν, to an electron if hν ≥ Eg, generating an electron-hole pair. In the depletion region, the drift electric field Edrift accelerates both electrons and holes towards their respective n-doped and p-doped regions (up and down, respectively). The resulting current Ig is called the generated photocurrent. In the quasi-neutral region, the scattering electric field Escatt accelerates holes (electrons) towards the p-doped (n-doped) region, which gives a scattering photocurrent Ipscatt (Inscatt). Consequently, due to the accumulation of charges, a potential V and a photocurrent Iph appear. The expression for this photocurrent is obtained by adding generation and scattering photocurrents: Iph = Ig + Inscatt + Ipscatt.