InxGa1-xAs/InyGa1-yAs strain-balanced quantum well cells (QWCs) have been shown to be beneficial for photovoltaic applications in particular to extend the light absorption edge of a single-junction cell toward the near infrared with a lower reduction of the open-circuit voltage compared to a single band-gap cell. The strain-balancing condition ensures that the multi-quantum well as a whole does not relax. However, if the mismatch between wells and barriers exceeds a critical limit, the structure becomes vulnerable to morphological or compositional fluctuations, which can lead to a local structural breakdown with the generation of extended defects of a completely different nature from misfit dislocations. In this work, we investigated a series of strain-balanced InGaAs QWCs grown on InP for thermophotovoltaic applications by means of electron-beam-induced current (EBIC) and cathodoluminescence (CL) measurements. Despite being electrically active, these defects appear to have a minor impact on the dark current of the cells but cause a drop of the photocurrent at relatively low forward bias voltage. The higher carrier collection efficiency revealed both by EBIC and CL at the boundaries of the defects suggests that a notch in the valence band edge limits the collection of holes generated in the MQW and the energy states, induced by the defects inside the energy gap, assist the tunneling of holes through the notch. At zero bias, the overall reduction of the collection efficiency is of the order of a few percent but the rate of recombination of photogenerated carriers increases dramatically with increasing forward-bias voltage as the junction built-in field drops more rapidly where the density of in-gap states is higher. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.