2022 start September 

Solar Cell Technology

Department of Physics and Astronomy, Faculty of Science

The move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is one of the biggest changes in society since the Industrial Revolution. This shift means there's a growing demand for scientists with specialist expertise in solar, a key energy technology of the 21st century.
Solar panels

Course description

This course is designed to train physical science and engineering graduates to develop new photovoltaic devices and test their effectiveness as a global energy resource. It spans fundamental materials science through to PV system deployment. This means you can learn how to fabricate and assemble solar technologies, and how to measure their effectiveness, in a range of operating conditions and at various scales.

Lecture modules are designed to teach you the concepts behind photovoltaic materials and solar energy generation. In practical sessions, you will learn how to characterise materials used in solar cells and build them into devices. You will also have access to our rooftop solar testbed, where solar cells can be assessed in real-world conditions. Computer programming classes will teach you how to analyse solar energy systems, drawing on expertise from the scientists at Sheffield Solar, who run the largest database of photovoltaic systems in the UK. 

Our dedicated enterprise module will show you how the solar technology business works in practice, and how companies get devices out of the lab and plugged into the energy network. The biggest part of your degree will be your research project. You'll be able to choose from a range of topics, from solar device fabrication to photovoltaic system analysis.

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The modules listed below are examples from the last academic year. There may be some changes before you start your course. For the very latest module information, check with the department directly.

Core modules:

Introduction to Photovoltaics

This course introduces photovoltaic technology and its role in future energy systems.

It starts with a summary of key ideas in semiconductor physics along with an introduction to the broader context of the role of photovoltaics within future energy systems.

It then covers underlying concepts that are required to understand the operation of a solar cell. In the first half of the course, we outline a basic description of a solar cell in terms of an equivalent circuit model and then use this to understand the origin of key device metrics. We then describe different techniques to characterise the efficiency of solar cells and discuss the fundamental processes that limit to solar-cell efficiency, including recombination. The course also includes a review of some of the underlying concepts in semiconductor physics that are used to describe the operation of solar-cell devices. In the second half of the course, we move on to a discussion of the main technologies used in modern solar-cells and models that describe how they perform in the real world. This includes a description of emerging trends in the development of new semiconductors and of new device architectures.

30 credits
Photovoltaic Systems

This course introduces the technology of photovoltaic systems along with approaches for measuring the performance of individual systems under real operating conditions. The module gives a broad overview of the different approaches used in system level modeling, before teaching different tools to perform real analyses. Cell, module and system performance are covered. The implications of latitude, shading, temperature, and system geometry are considered along with models for diffuse vs direct sunlight. Physical and statistical approaches to system modelling are introduced and data from real PV systems used to compare the different approaches. The statistics of performance of the GB fleet will be analysed using real data available through Sheffield Solar's

15 credits
Solar Cell Laboratory

This course will provide students with the skills required to measure and characterise solar cell performance and solar cell materials using a range of research laboratory techniques.

Laboratory techniques include measuring solar cell efficiency, characterisation of degradation rates, measuring irradiance and light spectrum, and using a cryostat to determine operating characteristics at low temperatures.

The module also includes learning to fabricate thin film solar cells and the characterisation of photovoltaic materials using photoluminescence and absorption spectroscopy. Students will also learn to assemble a silicon photovoltaic module and then measure its performance in outdoor conditions using our roof top laboratory.

15 credits
Innovation in Solar Energy

This is a lecture and workshop based course that is designed to give students experience in the process of innovation and entrepreneurship when applied to solar energy. As part of the course, students will gain understanding about the processes regarding commercial innovation and the development and critical appraisal of business ideas. Students will develop a new business proposal based around solar-cell technology or an allied service or market. Each student business proposal will be reviewed and critiqued by peers and academic supervisors. At the end of the course students will pitch their ideas to a panel of industry experts.

15 credits
Low Carbon Energy Science and Technology

Low carbon technologies are an essential requirement if the world’s energy needs are to be met without causing irreversible changes to the planet’s climate. This module will cover why there is a need for various different technologies that can help to meet the world’s energy needs without releasing large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Various different technologies that aim to meet this need will be introduced and then a select number will be studied in more detail. The aim of the module is to enable the student to make critical assessments of the different low carbon technologies backed by sound scientific understanding of their limitations and advantages.

15 credits
Physics Research Skills

This 30-credit module is to enhance and support the Physics MRes course. It is designed to allow students to explicitly reflect on various aspects of the research process and its communication.Students will be required to keep a diary of their project and reflect on their progress; write a literature review of the project area reflecting on how and why they chose their sources; reflect on the process of learning a new skill for their project; communicate what their research is about and why it is important to a general audience; consider how to teach what they are researching at UG level.

30 credits
Research Project in Physics or Astrophysics

This is a project based module that gives students an opportunity to apply their background scientific knowledge to a range of real research problems. Along with the application of knowledge, students will gain experience of managing their own scientific research project and developing skills in time management, project planning, scientific record keeping, information retrieval and analysis from scientific and other technical information sources. Through data analysis and information synthesis new knowledge will be created, summarised and presented. A range of projects will be offered for students to choose from. There will be a mix of both academic and industrial problems and projects ranging from laboratory experimentation to simulation based.

60 credits

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.


1 year full-time


  • Lectures
  • Laboratory classes
  • Computing and data analysis
  • Seminars
  • Enterprise training
  • Research project


  • Project assignments
  • Presentations
  • Examinations
  • Lab work
  • Exams
  • Dissertation and viva

Your career

We have close links with organisations in the solar industry who we’ve collaborated with on projects and who have employed our graduates. The course is also great preparation for a PhD.

Our industry partners include:

Solar cell materials

Photovoltaic technology

Energy systems

National and regional networks

Market intelligence and consultancy

Solar testing and measurement

Materials laboratory


The University of Sheffield is home to one of the UK's best equipped laboratories for developing and testing solar materials and devices: Electronic and Photonic Molecular Materials laboratory

The Sheffield Solar team run the solar testbed facility on the roof of our building and operate the UK's largest database of energy captured by rooftop solar panels: Sheffield Solar

Entry requirements

We usually ask for a 2:1 degree, or equivalent, in physics, materials science, physical chemistry, electrical engineering or a related subject.

Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

Pathway programme for international students

If you're an international student who does not meet the entry requirements for this course, you have the opportunity to apply for a pre-masters programme in Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield International College. This course is designed to develop your English language and academic skills. Upon successful completion, you can progress to degree level study at the University of Sheffield.

We also accept a range of other UK qualifications and other EU/international qualifications.

If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

Apply now

+44 114 222 3789

Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

Our student protection plan

Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

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