Photo of a new PERC next to a PERC that's undergone accelerated testing.
A new commercial silicon solar cell technology, called a passivated emitter rear cell (PERC), significantly increases initial module efficiency but questions remain about its lifetime. Scientists and engineers at Case Western Reserve University's SDLE Research Center will investigate the mechanisms that may shorten the useful life of the cell. A new PERC, left, next to a PERC that's undergone accelerated aging.

Case Western Reserve University’s SDLE Center receives $1.47 million SunShot grant

Researchers will determine lifetime and long-term power loss in new solar cell technology

The Solar Durability and Lifetime Extension (SDLE) Research Center at Case Western Reserve University, an organization that conducts degradation research on solar energy devices and materials, has been awarded a $1.47 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. The project will focus on testing the interactions of a new commercial silicon solar cell technology, called passivated emitter rear cell (PERC), with the packaging materials in solar panels aged under accelerated and real-world conditions.

PERC cells recently have been introduced to the solar market but present new concerns for lifetime and long-term power loss. Additionally, new packaging strategies must be considered to extend solar panel lifetimes beyond the current standard of 20 to 25 years. Using novel characterization methods in the lab and in the field, researchers will identify degradation mechanisms that shorten the lifetime of PERC cells, the backsheet on the rear surface and materials that encapsulate the cells.

“While PERC cells increase module efficiency from about 18 percent to 20 percent, a tremendous improvement in initial energy yield, the big challenge now is demonstrating the reliability of PERC modules compared to traditional crystalline silicon modules,” said Roger French, Kyocera Professor of Materials Science at Case Western Reserve and director of the SDLE Research Center.

The project team spans from academic reliability and device scientists at Case Western Reserve, the University of Central Florida and the University of Connecticut, to module and cell materials companies such as DuPont and Cybrid, to module manufacturer and power plant owner Canadian Solar. The degradation science approach incorporating advanced characterization techniques into time-series data streams allows for exploratory statistical data analytics and network modeling for rapid hypothesis generation and testing.

The SDLE Research Center was selected as a part of the Sunshot Initiative’s Photovoltaics Research and Development 2 funding program, which seeks to transform PV module design, explore high-risk emerging technology research, and devices and designs that facilitate rapid solar installation. Projects under this program will investigate new solar technology innovations that have the potential to make solar power affordable throughout the United States.

By identifying mechanisms of power loss in PERC modules, this research will improve the long-term reliability of PERC solar modules, thereby helping to reduce the cost of solar power.

About the SDLE Research Center at Case Western Reserve University

The SDLE Research Center at Case Western Reserve University is a world-class research center dedicated to data science and analytics applied to materials and energy science. Established in 2011 by Professor Roger H. French, the SDLE Center focuses on lifetime and degradation science of solar photovoltaic (PV) materials, accelerated laboratory and outdoor real-world exposures and evaluations of outdoor exposed technologies such as solar, led lighting and building envelope materials, energy efficiency and virtual energy auditing of buildings, using engineering epidemiology and data analytics, data-mining and statistical- and machine-learning applied to materials, petabyte/petaflop big data analytics applied to time-series, spectral and image datasets, and non-relational data warehousing and analytics environment for complex systems.

About the SunShot Initiative

The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a national effort to drive down the cost of solar electricity and support solar adoption. SunShot aims to make solar energy a low cost electricity source for all Americans through research and development efforts in collaboration with public and private partners. Learn more at

This article was originally published July 12, 2017.