Although direct conversion of solar energy to electricity by photovoltaic cells, or thermal energy in concentrated solar power systems is emerging as a leading contender for next generation green power production, solar energy contribution to a sustainable energy future begins from a much smaller base than oil and natural gas. The infrastructure as well as the human capacity to support solar power production on the same scale as the oil and natural gas industry does not currently exist. Therefore, it is vital to select research and development portfolios that will reduce risks of investment in solar projects that will help motivate deployment of new technologies. At present, photovoltaic (PV) cells are predominately based on crystalline and polycrystalline silicon and are growing at >40% per year with production rapidly approaching 3 gigawatts/year with PV installations supplying <1% of energy used in the world. Crystalline silicon-based systems will remain the dominant photovoltaic technology in the short term, but thin films are steadily increasing their market share too. There is also the use of multi-junction cells or hybrid devices organized at the nanoscale, the nanostructured photovoltaics. Increasing cell efficiency and reducing manufacturing expenses are critical in achieving reasonable costs to achieve grid parity. The paper includes analysis of the most challenging technological barriers in achieving low cost, high performance power conversion for photovoltaics, and promising R&D paths to meet such challenges. Objectives: Forming a platform that focuses on narrow cross-cutting areas within the research and technology chain to achieve low cost, high performance power conversion for photovoltaics. Methods: A review was carried out that included an analysis of emerging manufacturing technologies and ongoing material research in the context of the current industry situation. Results and Conclusion: Generally, there are two major avenues to further reduce the cost of energy generated by PV materials: (i) Reduction of manufacturing prices while retaining reasonable energy conversion efficiency (10-12%) and lifetime of devices (the major drive of which is in the development of thin-film solar material); (ii) Approaches focused on increasing the energy conversion efficiency beyond the Shockley-Queisser limit, while keeping a reasonable manufacturing cost.


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