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Techno-economic viability of silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules in the United States


Tandem photovoltaic modules with silicon bottom cells offer a promising route to exceed the single-junction photovoltaic efficiency limit and further lower the levelized cost of solar electricity. However, it is unclear whether continued improvements in efficiency will render tandem modules cost-competitive with their two constituent sub-cells, and with silicon technology in particular. Here, we construct a simple and versatile techno-economic model that, for a given balance-of-systems scenario, calculates the tandem module efficiency and cost from assumed sub-cell module efficiencies and costs. To understand which input conditions are likely to be representative of the future photovoltaic market, we calculate learning rates for both module and area-related balance-of-system costs, and find that the slower learning rate of the latter means that high-efficiency tandems will become increasingly attractive. Further, in the residential market in 2020, the model indicates that top-cell modules could cost up to US$100 m–2—over twice that of the projected silicon module cost—and the associated tandem module would be cost-competitive if its energy yield, degradation rate, service life and financing terms are similar to those of silicon.

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Fig. 1: Tandem system cost competitiveness plots.
Fig. 2: Photovoltaic system learning curves.
Fig. 3: Competitive landscape for tandem systems.
Fig. 4: Allowable tandem module cost.


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We thank R. Fu (NREL), P. Mints (SPV Market Research), and C. Gay (DOE SETO) for discussions. The information, data and work presented herein were funded in part by the US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, under Award Number DE–EE0006709, by the National Science Foundation under Award Number 1664669, and by the Engineering Research Center Program of the National Science Foundation and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the Department of Energy under NSF Cooperative Agreement Number EEC–1041895.

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Z.J.Y. developed the model, performed the analysis, and drafted the manuscript. J.V.C. assisted in data collection. Z.C.H. conceived the project idea and revised the manuscript. All authors approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Zhengshan J. Yu or Zachary C. Holman.

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Yu, Z.J., Carpenter, J.V. & Holman, Z.C. Techno-economic viability of silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules in the United States. Nat Energy 3, 747–753 (2018).

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