The thermodynamic characteristics of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells are investigated from a perspective based on exergy. A new efficiency is developed that is useful in studying PV performance and possible improvements. Exergy analysis is applied to a PV system and its components, and exergy flows, losses and efficiencies are evaluated. Energy efficiency is seen to vary between 7% and 12% during the day. In contrast, exergy efficiencies, which incorporate the second law of thermodynamics and account for solar irradiation exergy values, are lower for electricity generation using the considered PV system, ranging from 2% to 8%. Values of "fill factors" are determined for the system and observed to be similar to values of exergy efficiency. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.