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Shining Light on Solar Cells - Chapter 5.1: How do Solar Cells Work? (Typical Structure, Shockley-Queisser Limit)

By now, we have understood the basic working principle of a solar cell and how its IV curve looks like. In the second part of this chapter, let us understand the generic structure and design of a typical solar cell, and answer some common questions students usually ask.

Generic Structure of Solar Cell

Next, we will also learn about the Shockley-Queisser Limit, discovered by William Shockley and Hans Queisser. This finding was published in 1961 and has been cited more than 12000 times, setting the scene for the entire photovoltaics research industry. This describes a theoretical efficiency limit of solar cells due to the trade-off between current and voltage.


Shockley, William, and Hans J. Queisser. "Detailed balance limit of efficiency of p‐n junction solar cells." Journal of applied physics 32.3 (1961): 510-519.

Further reference materials that I highly recommend:

Solar Cells Lecture 1: Introduction to Photovoltaics

ECE Purdue Primer on Semiconductor Fundamentals

A. Kitai, in Principles of Solar Cells, LEDs and Diodes: The Role of the PN Junction, John Wiley & Sons, West Sussex, UK 2011

Luque, A. and Hegedus, S. (2003). Handbook of Photovoltaic Science and Engineering. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN: 978-0-471-49196-5.

Other parts in this series:

I'm an R&D Mechanical Engineer from Keysight Technologies. I design mechanical components that facilitate over-the-air testing equipment. I also have a strong background in photovoltaics. I love creating STEM-related content to inspire and encourage people to pursue STEM, as well as to provide career advice to fresh grads who are looking for their first job