A potentially low-cost process for forming and passivating a selective emitter. The process uses a plasma etch of the heavily doped emitter to improve its performance. The grids of the solar cell are used to mask the plasma etch so that only the emitter in the region between the grids is etched, while the region beneath the grids remains heavily doped for low contact resistance. This process is potentially low-cost because it requires no alignment. After the emitter etch, a silicon nitride layer is deposited by plasma-enhanced, chemical vapor deposition, and the solar cell is annealed in a forming gas.