Skip to main content
Photo of Photovoltaic Solar Panels.

Photovoltaic (PV) research and development (R&D) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) focuses on (1) boosting solar cell conversion efficiencies, (2) lowering the cost of solar cells, modules, and systems, and (3) improving the reliability of PV components and systems. NREL's PV effort contributes to these goals through high-impact successes in fundamental research, advanced materials and devices, and technology development.

Our scientists are pursuing critical activities that will help to accomplish the goal of the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative—to make large-scale solar energy systems at low grid penetrations cost-competitive with other energy sources by 2020.

We conduct our research in collaboration with universities and the solar industry through research partnerships and through direct support of PV R&D performed within the Materials and Chemical Science and Technology Directorate.

Our R&D described in the list below emphasizes innovation in various PV technologies. But our technical expertise transfers to and is being applied to other technology areas and across a range of applications, including: fuel cells, hydrogen storage, photoelectrochemistry, windows, batteries, thermoelectrics, and opto-electronics/lighting.

Areas of Focus

Our PV research covers the following wide range of topics.

Measurements and Characterization. Cell and Module Performance; Analytical Microscopy and Imaging Science/Analytical Microscopy; Interfacial and Surface Science/Surface Science; and Electro-Optical Characterization.

Chemistry and Physics of Materials and Devices. High-Efficiency Crystalline PV (Silicon; III-V Multijunctions; Hybrid Tandems); Thin Films; and Emerging materials and devices, including Perovskites, Quantum dots, Organic photovoltaics, Carbon nanotubes, and 2-D materials.

Synthesis and Processing of Materials. III-V Deposition; Nanomaterial Synthesis; Thin-Film Processing/Thin-Film Deposition; and Catalysts, Fuel Cells, and Batteries.

Materials by Design. Materials Discovery; Integrating theory, experiment, and characterization through the Office of Science-funded Center for Next Generation of Materials by Design.

Reliability. Laboratory Testing; Field Testing; Engineering; Regional Test Centers.

Techno-Economic Analysis. Technology Analysis; Market Analysis, in collaboration with NREL's Strategic Energy Analysis Center.

Modeling and Theory. Device Modeling; Process Modeling; and High-Performance-Computing Theoretical Studies.

Manufacturing Prototyping. Webline Activities; Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing for PV, batteries, and fuel cells; within NREL's Process Development Integration Laboratory (PDIL) and the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF).

Our R&D Approach

Our R&D activities complement, rather than compete with, private-sector work by:

  • Developing high-pay-off technology too high risk for industry, but too complex for universities;
  • Understanding the "why" behind what works and what doesn't;
  • Providing unbiased quantification of metrics to track industry progress;
  • Performing R&D and developing standards to improve confidence in PV performance, reliability, and safety; and
  • Supporting the success of U.S. companies through cooperative and enabling R&D.

Our robust research program includes a portfolio of projects with near-, mid-, and long-term time horizons. Industry partners may find partnering with NREL particularly attractive in areas where a commercial version of the technology is not yet fully established.

In addition to current and planned activities, our past work made major contributions to advancing PV technology and was foundational in building the U.S. PV industry, including, for example, the PV Manufacturing R&D Project and the Thin-Film Partnership Project.


Greg Wilson
Co-Director of the National Center for Photovoltaics
Phone: 303-275-4126

Sarah Kurtz
Co-Director of the National Center for Photovoltaics
Phone: 303-275-4126

Mary Werner
NREL Solar Program Manager
Phone: 303-384-7366

Resources Find what you needed?
The Process Integration Approach: PV Partnerships