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.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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.


  1. 1.

    Cole, W. J. et al. SunShot 2030 for Photovoltaics (PV): Envisioning a Low-cost PV Future (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2017);

  2. 2.

    Fu, R., Feldman, D. J., Margolis, R. M., Woodhouse, M. A. & Ardani, K. B. US Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2017 (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2017);

  3. 3.

    Woodhouse, M. et al. On the Path to SunShot. The Role of Advancements in Solar Photovoltaic Efficiency, Reliability, and Costs Report No. NREL/TP--6A20-65872 United States10.2172/1253983 (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2016);

  4. 4.

    Ye, F. et al. in 2016 IEEE 43rd Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (IEEE, 2016);

  5. 5.

    Green, M. A. et al. Solar cell efficiency tables (version 50). Progr. Photovolt. 25, 668–676 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Yoshikawa, K. et al. Silicon heterojunction solar cell with interdigitated back contacts for a photoconversion efficiency over 26%. Nat. Energy 2, 17032 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Yu, Z., Leilaeioun, M., & Holman, Z. Selecting tandem partners for silicon solar cells. Nat. Energy 1, 16137 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Grassman, T. J., Chmielewski, D. J., Carnevale, S. D., Carlin, J. A. & Ringel, S. A. GaAs0.75P0.25/Si dual-junction solar cells grown by MBE and MOCVD. IEEE J. Photovolt. 6, 326–331 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Cariou, R. et al. Monolithic two-terminal III-V//Si triple-junction solar cells with 30.2% efficiency under 1-Sun AM1.5g. IEEE J. Photovolt. 7, 367–373 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Essig, S. et al. Raising the one-sun conversion efficiency of III–V/Si solar cells to 32.8% for two junctions and 35.9% for three junctions. Nat. Energy 2, 17144 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Bush, K. A. et al. 23.6%-efficient monolithic perovskite/silicon tandem solar cells with improved stability. Nat. Energy 2, 17003 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Duong, T. et al. Rubidium multication perovskite with optimized bandgap for perovskite-silicon tandem with over 26% efficiency. Adv. Energy Mater. 7, 1700228 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Werner, J., Niesen, B. & Ballif, C. Perovskite/silicon tandem solar cells: marriage of convenience or true love story? – An overview. Adv. Mater. Interf. 5, 1700731 (2017).

  14. 14.

    Peters, I. M., Sofia, S., Mailoa, J. & Buonassisi, T. Techno-economic analysis of tandem photovoltaic systems. RSC Adv. 6, 66911–66923 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Bobela, D. C., Gedvilas, L., Woodhouse, M., Horowitz, K. A. W. & Basore, P. A. Economic competitiveness of III–V on silicon tandem one-sun photovoltaic solar modules in favorable future scenarios. Progr. Photovolt. 10.1002/pip.2808 25, 41–48 (2016).

  16. 16.

    A Snapshot of Global PV (1992–2016) (Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme, International Energy Agency, 2017);

  17. 17.

    Photovoltaics Report (Fraunhofer ISE, 2017);

  18. 18.

    Wesoff, E. The End of Oerlikon’s Amorphous Silicon Solar Saga (GreenTechMedia, 2014);

  19. 19.

    Wesoff, E. CPV Hopeful Soitec Latest Victim of the Economics of Silicon Photovoltaics (GreenTechMedia, 2014);

  20. 20.

    Stefancich, M., Chiesa, M. & Apostoleris, H. Do We Still Care About CPV? (International Society for Optics and Photonics, 2017);

  21. 21.

    Photovoltaic Manufacturer Capacity, Shipments, Price & Revenues (SPV Market Research, 2017);

  22. 22.

    Louwen, A., van Sark, W., Schropp, R. & Faaij, A. A cost roadmap for silicon heterojunction solar cells. Sol. Energ. Mat. Sol. C 147, 295–314 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaic: Results 2016 (ITRPV, 2017);

  24. 24.

    SolarServer. Global Solar Industry Website (accessed December 2016);

  25. 25.

    Solar Market Insight Report 2017 Q2 (Solar Energy Industries Association/GTM Research, 2017);

  26. 26.

    Montgomery, D. C., Peck, E. A. & Vining, G. G. Introduction to Linear Regression Analysis 5th edn (Wiley, 2013).

  27. 27.

    McMeekin, D. P. et al. A mixed-cation lead mixed-halide perovskite absorber for tandem solar cells. Science 351, 151–155 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Todorov, T., Gunawan, O. & Guha, S. A road towards 25% efficiency and beyond: perovskite tandem solar cells. Mol. Syst. Des. Eng. 1, 370–376 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Warren, Emily L. et al. Maximizing tandem solar cell power extraction using a three-terminal design. Sustain. Energy Fuels 2, 1141–1147 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Liu, H., Aberle, A. G., Buonassisi, T., & Peters, I. M. On the methodology of energy yield assessment for one-Sun tandem solar cells. Sol. Energy 135, 598–604 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Mailoa, J. P. et al. Energy-yield prediction for II-VI-based thin-film tandem solar cells. Energy Environ. Sci. 9, 2644–2653 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Shen, H. et al. Mechanically-stacked perovskite/CIGS tandem solar cells with efficiency of 23.9% and reduced oxygen sensitivity. Energy Environ. Sci. 11, 394–406 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Eperon, G. E. et al. Perovskite-perovskite tandem photovoltaics with optimized band gaps. Science 354, 861–865 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information




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.

Corresponding authors

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

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–2, Supplementary Note 1, Supplementary References

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

Further reading


Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter for a daily update on COVID-19 science.
Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing