Photon Enhanced Thermionic Emission (PETE) is exploited to provide improved efficiency for radiant energy conversion. A hot (greater than 200.degree. C.) semiconductor cathode is illuminated such that it emits electrons. Because the cathode is hot, significantly more electrons are emitted than would be emitted from a room temperature (or colder) cathode under the same illumination conditions. As a result of this increased electron emission, the energy conversion efficiency can be significantly increased relative to a conventional photovoltaic device. In PETE, the cathode electrons can be (and typically are) thermalized with respect to the cathode. As a result, PETE does not rely on emission of non-thermalized electrons, and is significantly easier to implement than hot-carrier emission approaches.