The effect of substrate morphology on the growth and electrical properties of single-junction microcrystalline silicon cells is investigated. A large variety of V-shaped and U-shaped substrates are characterized by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and the growth of thin-film microcrystalline silicon (mc-Si:H) devices is observed by cross-sectional transmission electron microscopy (TEM). It is shown that enhanced electrical properties of solar cells are obtained when U-shaped substrates are used and the effect is universal, i.e. independent of the substrate or feature size. U-shaped substrates prevent the formation of two dimensional ‘‘cracks’’, which are identified as zones of porous material, from propagating throughout the active part of the solar cell. A numerical growth simulation program reproduces satisfactorily these experimental observations. According to these simulations, shadowing effect due to surface morphology and low adatom surface diffusion length are responsible for the formation of cracks in mc-Si:H material.