The effect of hybrid photovoltaic thermal device operating conditions on intrinsic layer thickness optimization of hydrogenated amorphous silicon solar cells
Historically, the design of hybrid solar photovoltaic thermal (PVT) systems has focused on cooling crystalline silicon (c-Si)-based photovoltaic (PV) devices to avoid temperature-related losses. This approach neglects the associated performance losses in the thermal system and leads to a decrease in the overall exergy of the system. Consequently, this paper explores the use of hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) as an absorber material for PVT in an effort to maintain higher and more favourable operating temperatures for the thermal system. Amorphous silicon not only has a smaller temperature coefficient than c-Si, but also can display improved PV performance over extended periods of higher temperatures by annealing out defect states from the Staebler-Wronski effect. In order to determine the potential improvements in a-Si:H PV performance associated with increased thicknesses of the i-layers made possible by higher operating temperatures, a-Si:H PV cells were tested under 1 sun illumination (AM1.5) at temperatures of 25oC (STC), 50oC (representative PV operating conditions), and 90 oC (representative PVT operating conditions). PV cells with an i-layer thicknesses of 420, 630 and 840 nm were evaluated at each temperature. Results show that operating a-Si:H-based PV at 90 oC, with thicker i-layers than the cells currently used in commercial production, provided a greater power output compared to the thinner cells operating at either PV or PVT operating temperatures. These results indicate that incorporating a-Si:H as the absorber material in a PVT system can improve the thermal performance, while simultaneously improving the electrical performance of a-Si:H-based PV.