Hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) p–i–n solar cell performance has been optimized using a two-step i-layer growth process. This effort has been guided by real-time spectroscopic ellipsometry (RTSE) studies of the nucleation and growth of a-Si:H films by plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition at 200 °C using a variable H2-dilution gas flow ratio R=[H2]/[SiH4]. RTSE studies during film growth with R>15 reveal a transition from the amorphous to microcrystalline (a→μc) phase at a critical thickness that decreases with increasing R. From such results, the optimum two-step process was designed such that the initial stage of the i layer (∼200 Å) is deposited at much higher R than the bulk to ensure that the film remains within the amorphous side of the a→μc phase boundary, yet as close as possible to this boundary at low i-layer thicknesses.

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