This Engineer’s Solar Panels Are Breaking Efficiency Records

This Engineer’s Solar Panels Are Breaking Efficiency Records

When Yifeng Chen was a teenager in Shantou, China, in the early 2000s, he saw a TV program that amazed him. The show highlighted rooftop solar panels in Germany, explaining that the panels generated electricity to power the buildings and even earned the owners money by letting them sell extra energy back to the electricity company.

Yifeng Chen


Trina Solar


Assistant vice president of technology

Member Grade


Alma Maters

Sun Yat-sen University, in Guangzhou, China, and Leibniz University Hannover, in Germany

An incredulous Chen marveled at not only the technology but also the economics. A power authority would pay its customers?

It sounded like magic: useful and valuable electricity extracted from simple sunlight. The wonder of it all has fueled his dreams ever since.

In 2013 Chen earned a Ph.D. in photovoltaic sciences and technologies, and today he’s assistant vice president of technology at China’s Trina Solar, a Changzhou-based company that is one of the largest PV manufacturers in the world. He leads the company’s R&D group, whose efforts have set more than two dozen world records for solar power efficiency and output.

For Chen’s contributions to the science and technology of photovoltaic energy conversion, the IEEE member received the 2023 IEEE Stuart R. Wenham Young Professional Award from the IEEE Electron Devices Society.

“I was quite surprised and so grateful” to receive the Wenham Award, Chen says. “It’s a very high-level recognition, and there are so many deserving experts from around the world.”

Trina Solar’s push for more efficient hardware

Today’s commercial solar panels typically achieve about 20 percent efficiency: They can turn one-fifth of captured sunlight into electricity. Chen’s group is trying to make the panels more efficient.

The group is focusing on optimizing solar cell designs, including the passivated emitter and rear cell (PERC), which is the industry standard for commodity solar panels.

Invented in 1983, PERCs are used today in nearly 90 percent of solar panels on the market. They incorporate coatings on the front and back to capture sunlight more effectively and to avoid losing energy, both at the surfaces and as the sunlight travels through the cell. The coatings, known as passivation layers, are made from materials such as silicon nitride, silicon dioxide, and aluminum oxide. The layers keep negatively charged free electrons and positively charged electron holes apart, preventing them from combining at the surface of the solar cell and wasting energy.

Chen and his team have developed several ways to boost the performance of PERC panels, hitting a record of 24.5 percent efficiency in 2022. One of the technologies is a multilayer antireflective coating that helps solar panels trap more light. They also created extremely fine metallization fingers—narrow lines on solar cells’…

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The post “This Engineer’s Solar Panels Are Breaking Efficiency Records” by Julianne Pepitone was published on 06/13/2024 by