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Introduction to Semiconductors

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Section Goals

  1. Understand semiconductor function within the context of PV.
  2. Learn how to optimize semiconductor performance in PV.
  3. Understand why silicon is the most commonly used semiconductor material for PV applications.

Solar cells have always been aligned closely with other electronic devices. The following pages cover the basic aspects of semiconductor materials and the physical mechanisms which are at the center of photovoltaic devices.  These physical mechanisms are used to explain the operation of a p-n junction, which forms the basis not only for the great majority of solar cells, but also most other electronic devices such as lasers and bipolar junction transistors. Much of the theory of solid-state semiconductors was worked out during the invention of the transistor in the late 40s and early 50s 1. While PV semiconductor materials are not limited to silicon, the dominance of silicon in the PV market has led to our particular emphasis of that material for the PVCDROM. For the purposes of the website, the material presented specifically focuses on silicon-based solar cells, unless otherwise noted.

silicon ingot

An ingot of silicon, consisting of a single large crystal of silicon. Such an ingot is sliced into individual wafers and then used to make a variety of semiconductor devices, including solar cells and computer chips.