Research NewsPhotovoltaics

New Solar Cells Seem to Have Power at the Right Price

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Science  21 Jun 1996:
Vol. 272, Issue 5269, pp. 1744-1745
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5269.1744


Efficiency versus cost. It's a trade-off that bedevils makers of solar cells. Cells made from crystalline silicon are good at absorbing photons and converting them to electricity. But they cost a lot. In contrast, noncrystalline cells made with amorphous silicon are much cheaper—but only about half as efficient as their crystalline counterparts. Now researchers think that they can trade in this devilish trade-off. At a conference last month in Arlington, Virginia, scientists were energized by a report that an ultrathin film—a mixture of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium—has been made into prototype cells that convert nearly 18% of incoming photons to electricity, a performance approaching that of the best crystalline silicon cells. If researchers can overcome nagging manufacturing and marketing problems, new devices could produce power for less than $0.50 per watt.