SASEC2015 Third Southern African Solar Energy Conference 11 – 13 May 2015

SASEC2015 Third Southern African Solar Energy Conference 11 – 13 May 2015
Third Southern African Solar Energy Conference
11 – 13 May 2015
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Crozier J.L.*, van Dyk E.E. and Vorster F.J.
*Author for correspondence
Department of Physics,
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University,
Port Elizabeth, 6031,
South Africa
Email: [email protected];
Electroluminescence (EL) is a useful solar cell and photovoltaic module characterisation technique as it is fast, non-destructive and
sensitive to the effects of shunt and series resistance and recombination processes. EL is emitted by a solar cell under forward bias, as
injected carriers recombine radiatively and can be detected by a cooled silicon CCD camera in dark conditions or with appropriate
optical filters. There is a relationship between the localised intensity of the emitted EL and the corresponding photo-response of the
cell at a point [1-3]. Thus EL imaging allows cracks, breaks and defects to be identified. These defects can have a significant effect of
the performance and longevity of the module. Cracks result in inactive areas which limit the current generated by the cell. Cells are
connected in series in a module so the power output of the entire module is affected. This study investigates the relationship between
the EL image of observed features and the power output of the module. It is shown that the extent to which the power and current of a
module are affected by cell fractures depends on the area and position of the fracture. Other features such broken contact fingers and
small micro-cracks are observed to have a minimal effect on the power output.
The current-voltage (I-V) characteristics of a solar cell are
represented by a diode equation and an equivalent circuit
which successfully describes the electrical behaviour of a solar
cell [4]. The I-V characteristics of a solar cell or module can be
measured using an indoor solar simulator or an outdoor currentvoltage measurement system. The illuminated I-V curve occurs
in the fourth quadrant, however, the convention is to use the
absolute value of current and thus reflect the curve in the first
quadrant [5]. In the I-V curve the power output of the cell is at
a maximum when the product of current and voltage is at a
maximum. The IMAX and VMAX are the current and voltage
points that correspond to the maximum power point, PMAX.
The Standard Test Conditions (STC) are 1000 W/m2 and
25° C. The temperature and irradiance conditions at the time of
measurement influence the shape of the I-V curve.
Measurements should be taken at irradiance values greater than
700 W/m2, thereafter the current is corrected to an irradiance of
1000 W/m2. The accuracy of the temperature and irradiance
measurements affects the uncertainty of the final power
measurement as corrections to STC are performed.
The short circuit current (ISC) is the current value that occurs
when the voltage is zero. The ISC is equivalent to the
photogenerated current (IPH) unless the series resistance is high
and there is a significant amount of leakage current flowing
through the shunt resistance[4]. The open circuit voltage (VOC)
is a measure of the strength of the bias that occurs over the
junction due to the photogenerated carriers [5]. The fill
factor (FF) is the ratio of the maximum power output to the
product of short circuit current and open circuit voltage. Fill
factor gives an indication of how the shape of the I-V curve
varies from the ideal shape due to the effects of series and shunt
In real solar cells series resistance occurs due to resistances
along the current path to the external circuit of the collected
carrier [4]. The series resistance includes the resistance in the
bulk of the material, the emitter, the contacts and busbars. The
presence of series resistance limits the current output and
causes a drop in voltage at a specific current which lowers the
fill factor of the curve [6]. Increasing the series resistance
results in the I-V characteristic becoming flattened at the
“knee” and at high series resistances the curve resembles the
ohmic behaviour of a resistor.
A deviation in the I-V curve between the measured curve
and the ideal curve can be indicative of various defects which
are discussed:
Lower Short-circuit current (Isc): The current of
module is linked to the illumination levels. Lower
illumination levels or uniform shading decreases the
current output of the module [7]. This can also be
caused by degradation and discolouration in the
encapsulant layers. Alternatively if cells in multiple
strings are equally degraded or damaged there will a
decrease in ISC and the I-V curve will not have steps.
Lower Open-circuit voltage (Voc): The VOC of a
module is equal to the sum of the voltages of each cell
connected in series. Lower than expected VOC can be
attributed to shunts over the cell, where the
interconnections are faulty or there is a faulty bypass
diode. Alternatively, since VOC is highly temperature
dependant, inaccuracy in the temperature measurements
and corrections can result in lower or higher than
expected VOC. Potential-Induced Degradation (PID) also
reduces the VOC of the module.
Steps in I-V Curve: Steps in the bypass diodes are
attributed to a mismatch in the current in stings which
activates the bypass diode[6]. Cracks or defects
occurring in a localised area of the module will result in
steps in the I-V curve corresponding with the activation
of bypass diodes.
Gradient of slope near Isc: The low voltage region of
the curve close to ISC is affected by shunt resistance. If
the shunt resistance decreases due to the presence of
shunting over cells in the module the slope in this region
will be steeper.
Gradient of slope near VOC: This region of the I-V
curve is affected by series resistance. Poor
interconnection, contacts or junction box can result in
the slope from the “knee” becoming steeper.
In mono-crystalline silicon cells they are easily identified
but in multi-crystalline silicon cells it can be hard to distinguish
them from the dark lines and shapes of the crystal
inhomogeneitites and grain boundaries. The effect of these
cracks on the module power output depends on the extent of the
cracks and whether the cracks remove portions of the cells from
electrical contact[10]. Micro-cracks have also been shown to
lower short-circuit current and efficiency while increasing
recombination current [11]. A crack in the cell material
prevents electrical contact to the area and either fewer minority
charge carriers are generated or none at all. The lack of
radiative recombination in these areas renders these defects
visible in the EL image.
The classification of micro-cracks is discussed by Kőntges
et al [12] and divided into 3 classes:
Class A: Micro-cracks are visible in the EL but do not
cause inactive areas of the cell. The crack does not affect
current flow and thus the EL intensity is roughly
equivalent on either sides of the crack.
Class B: Micro-cracks result in an area of the cell that is
darker in the EL image but that is still connected in the
Class C: Micro-cracks completely remove areas of the
cell from electrical contact which appear completely
dark in the EL image.
The effect on the power output of class A micro-cracks is
minimal but has been shown that with time and thermal cycling
class A micro-cracks can develop into B or C micro-cracks[12].
characterisation technique that allows defects and features in
solar cells to be quickly identified. A solar cell or module is
forward biased and the radiative recombination of injected
carriers results in photons emitted from the surface of the cell.
The intensity of the emitted luminescence is dependent on the
optical, electrical and resistive properties of the solar cell. The
EL is strongly dependant on the applied bias conditions and
increased applied bias results in increased EL intensity and thus
areas of high series resistances result in decreased EL intensity.
EL imaging is very effective in detecting defects in modules
such as cracks, broken fingers and broken cells[8]. For this
reason it is extensively integrated into module production lines
and module testing systems and highlights features that are
missed during visual inspection[9]. The EL images can be
quantitatively assessed in order to determine the resistive and
recombination properties [1, 2, 7].
Silicon solar cells are made of thin, fragile wafers making
the occurrence of micro-cracks fairly common if cells and
modules are not handled correctly. Micro-cracks can occur in
the manufacturing process of the cells and modules or in the
transport, handling and installation of the module. While
severe cracks can be detected using an optical microscope,
micro-cracks will not be visible and this is a time consuming
process. EL provides a quick way of identifying cracks in cells
and modules. Micro-cracks appear in EL images as dark lines
and the position and orientation of the cracks can be indicative
of their cause[10].
Five mono-crystalline modules are tested pre-exposure.
These modules all have the same specifications and
dimensions. The modules are rated at PMAX = 85W,
VOC = 44.0V and ISC =2.61A. They consist of 72 cells each with
an area of 12.4 x 5.6 cm. The I-V curve is measured using a
class AAA indoor solar simulator where the irradiance and
temperature corrections are performed.
The correction
procedure is followed in accordance with standard IEC 60904.
The back of module temperature of the test module and the
reference cell is measured and the temperature corrections are
made to the voltage and current using the manufacturers’
supplied temperature coefficient. The irradiance is measured
using a calibrated reference cell and the measured current is
corrected to 1000W/m2. The performance parameters (PMAX,
VOC, FF and ISC) are extracted from the corrected curve. EL
images of the module are recorded using a cooled-CCD camera
with appropriate filters. The camera setup is optimised for the
bulk testing of modules so that image resolution is sacrificed so
that the EL test can be integrated into the module testing
production line.
The I-V curve of each module is plotted in figure 1, these
curves have been corrected to Standard Test Conditions, 25°C
and 1000 W/m2. Modules 1 to 4 have typical I-V curves
without steps and with normal slopes near I SC and VOC.
Module 5 has a step in the I-V curve indicating the activation of
Maximum Power (W)
Current [A]
the bypass diode across the string due to current mismatch
between the strings.
Voltage [V]
Module 1
Module 2
Module 4
Module 5
+ 3%
- 3%
Module 3
Pmpp (W)
Figure 1 The I-V curve of the test modules corrected to STC.
Module 5 shows the steps in the I-V curve indicating the
activation of a bypass diode and cell mismatch.
P(W) nominal
Figure 2 The maximum power of the tested modules
compared to the rated power. The modules are underrated by
about 10 W so all except one greatly exceed the rated power.
Module 5 falls within the rated power range.
The maximum power point of each module is extracted
from the I-V curves and is plotted in figure 2. Modules 1-4
have exceeded the rated power and have a PMAX of between
94-99 W. Module 5 has considerably lower PMAX than the other
modules, however it still is in the ±3% tolerance region for an
85 W module. The uncertainty in the power measurement is
4%, indicated with error bars.
The ISC of each module is plotted with error bars of 4%
uncertainty in figure 3, the modules are all greater than the
rated short-circuit current. Modules 3, 4 and 5 have about the
same ISC even though module 5 has a much lower power. This
is because the bypass diodes in module 5 is activated, therefore
increasing the ISC. The VOC of each module is plotted with error
bars of 4% uncertainty in figure 4. The measured currents are
all above the rated current and the voltages are all within the
rated range. It is important that the voltage provided by a
module is correctly specified as the maximum power point
tracker, charge controller and inverter are not able to handle
large variations in voltage. The Fill Factor for each curve is
plotted in figure 4, where module 5 has the lowest FF owing to
the steps in the I-V curve due to the activation of the bypass
These modules have been underspecified and have a
maximum power output greater than 85 W. This probably due
to the manufacturer or distributor deciding that there is a
greater market for 85W modules. Under specification would
not be considered a problem for most applications provided the
voltage is as specified.
Short Circuit Current (A)
+ 3%
- 3%
Isc (A)
Isc (A) Nominal
Figure 3 The short-circuit current of the test modules compared
with their rated current.
Open Circuit Voltage(V)
+ 3%
- 3%
Module 1
Voc (V)
Module 2
Voc (V) Nominal
Figure 4 The open-circuit voltage of the test modules
compared with their rated voltage.
Fill Factor
Module 3
Module 4
Figure 5 The Fill factor of the test modules.
The EL images of the 5 modules are shown in figure 6.
Some of the cells with defects are highlighted in the image in
order to indicate which EL features correspond with which
defects. The results of the test are summarised as follows:
Module 1: No severe defects, some broken finger contacts
which result in darker areas on the cells.
Module 2: Micro-cracks in a several cells, broken finger
contacts and poor cell interconnection.
Module 3: Micro-cracks, broken finger contacts.
Module 4: Micro-cracks
Module 5: “Tyre Tracks” due to contact forming failures,
broken finger contacts, poor cell interconnection and microcracks.
Module 5
Figure 6 The EL image of test modules taken at an applied
forward current equal to ISC. The pixel size is approximately 2
mm. The low resolution of the image can make defects more
difficult to determine. The following examples of defects are
highlighted: a) Module 2- A cell with a micro-crack running
parallel to the busbars, b) Module 2- A cell with a broken
contact finger, c) Module 3- a cell with broken fingers and a
micro-crack, d) Module 4- A cell with a micro-crack, e)
Module 5- Darker cell due to poor cell connection and f)
Module 5- Cell with tyre track defect is highlighted.
As expected from the results of the I-V characterisation
module 5 has many defects observed in the EL image. One cell
appears much darker than the others indicating high series
resistance in the busbars thus lowering the experienced applied
bias and the cell appears darker than the other cells. The “tyre
tracks” on many of the cells occur due to temperature
inhomogeneitites that occur during the metallisation process of
the cells. These features are commonly observed in crystalline
silicon solar cell and do not significantly lower the current of
the affected cells[13]. Tyre tracks occur during the
manufacturing process so their presence in only module 5
points to a different manufacturing batch, supported by the
slightly different appearance of module 5 in the EL image.
There are also micro-cracks that contribute to lower current. As
the micro-cracks and poorly contacted cell occur in the same
string (the top two rows of cells in figure 6) the bypass diode is
activated over that string which results in the step in the I-V
curve that is observed in figure 1. Module 1 does not have any
severe defects which explains the higher current observed in
figure 3, compared with the other modules.
This study discussed the I-V curve and the performance
parameters of five PV modules. A drop in each parameter
indicates a potential defect or failure in the module. Module 5
has a lower than average power and fill factor which is
attributed to cell mismatch since there is a step in the I-V curve.
The presence of micro-cracks and poorly connected cells is
confirmed by the EL image.
The I-V curve and performance parameters are usually used
to identify failure modules and they are able to give an
indication of the possible causes of the lower parameters.
However, the EL image provides a clearer idea of the defects
that are present. Many features observed in an EL image will
not significantly affect the module performance so it is
important to employ both techniques to completely characterise
the module.
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