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Fundamentals of Photovoltaics


Graduate-level standing, or permission of the instructor.



Fundamentals of photoelectric conversion: charge excitation, conduction, separation, and collection. Commercial and emerging photovoltaic (PV) technologies. Cross-cutting themes in PV: conversion efficiencies, loss mechanisms, characterization, manufacturing, systems, reliability, life-cycle analysis, risk analysis. Photovoltaic technology evolution in the context of markets, policies, society, and environment.

T. Buonassisi

Course Objectives

By the year 2030, several hundreds gigawatts of power must be generated from low-carbon sources to cap atmospheric CO2 concentrations at levels deemed "lower-risk" by the current scientific consensus. The necessity to develop low-carbon energy sources represents not only an awesome technological and engineering challenge, but also an equally large economic opportunity in a trillion-dollar energy market.

Students will learn how solar cells convert light into electricity, how solar cells are manufactured, how solar cells are evaluated, what technologies are currently on the market, and how to evaluate the risk and potential of existing and emerging solar cell technologies. We examine the potential & drawbacks of currently manufactured technologies (single- and multi-crystalline silicon, micromorph tandem cells, CdTe, CIGS, CPV, PVT), as well as pre-commercial technologies (organics, biomimetic, organic/inorganic hybrid, and nanostructure-based solar cells). Hands-on laboratory sessions explore how a solar cell works in practice. We scrutinize what limits solar cell performance and cost, and the major hurdles — technological, economic, and political — towards widespread substitution of fossil fuels. Students will apply this knowledge towards developing and critiquing a solar energy technology prospectus.


Homework 20%
Concept quizzes 10%
In-class quizzes 20%
Class project 50%


This class will be primarily taught by Prof. T. Buonassisi, whose research is focused solely on solar energy conversion — technology and markets. Prior to joining the faculty at MIT, Prof. Buonassisi worked at a local solar energy start-up (Evergreen Solar, Inc.), and he continues to interact with a wide range of companies today. Buonassisi co-developed a similar semester-long course on photovoltaics at UC Berkeley, and month-long mini-courses during the MIT IAP periods of 2006 and 2007, which attracted over fifty participants across various disciplines. Visiting lecturers may be drawn from surrounding companies, universities, analyst, consulting, and venture capital firms, as well as all portions of the PV value chain (wafer, cell, and module manufacturing, installation, systems integration).

Relationship to Other Subjects in this Area

MIT currently offers no subjects focusing exclusively on photovoltaics. There are courses on the broader topics of energy conversion (2.60, 2.62J/10.392J/22.40J) and renewable energy (12.213, STS.038), as well as seminars in management (15.990-15.993) and entrepreneurship (15.396), which may touch upon some aspect of solar energy.

Reference List


Amazon logo Bube, R. H. Photovoltaic Materials. London, UK: Imperial College Press, 1998. ISBN: 9781860940651.

Amazon logo Green, M. A. Solar Cells: Operating Principles, Technology and System Applications. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1981. ISBN: 9780138222703.

Amazon logo Wenham, S. R., M. A. Green, M. E. Watt, R. Corkish. Applied Photovoltaics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Earthscan Publications Ltd., 2007. ISBN: 9781844074013.

Amazon logo Green, M. A. Silicon Solar Cells: Advanced Principles and Practice. Sydney, Australia: Centre for Photovoltaic Devices & Systems, 1995. ISBN: 9780733409943.

Aberle, A. G. Crystalline Silicon Solar Cells - Advanced Surface Passivation & Analysis. Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales, 2004. ISBN: 9780733406454

Amazon logo Poortmans, J., and V. Arkhipov. Thin Film Solar Cells: Fabrication, Characterization and Applications. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2006. ISBN: 9780470091265.

Amazon logo Green, M. A. Third Generation Photovoltaics: Advanced Solar Energy Conversion. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag, 2007. ISBN: 9783540265627.

Amazon logo Luque, A., and S. Hegedus. Handbook of Photovoltaic Science and Engineering. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. ISBN: 9780471491965.

Scientific Papers

L. Kazmerski. Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena 150 (2006): 105-135.

Digital Media

Honsberg, C., and S. Bowden. Photovoltaics: Devices, Systems and Applications CD-ROM.