We demonstrate that corona discharges in xenon gas can be an efficient source of 172 nm Xe2* excimer vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) radiation. Conversion efficiencies of electrical power into VUV light greater than 50% have been observed. A model describing the light production mechanism in the discharge region including the influence of water vapor content in the 10 ppm region is presented. A prototype large area lamp consisting of 21 corona discharges operating in parallel has been built with 38 mW/cm2 VUV output power per area at the lamps surface. Based on the model and experimental results achieved, a continuous wave large area Xe2* 172 nm excimer light source with 130 mW/cm2 output and a possible wall plug efficiency close to 48% is proposed. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.