Today (June 15) First Solar announced a new world record efficiency for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaics (PVs). In testing at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) its full-sized advanced PV module had an 18.6 percent aperture efficiency, which is more efficient than the highest efficiency multi-crystalline silicon PV modules. The advance in efficiency is putting First Solar closer to producing some of the world’s most efficient solar panels at lower costs.
The new advances could help First Solar enter new markets like residential solar. The company has largely focussed on commercial solar power since its modules were less efficient at converting the sun into electricity than many crystalline silicon modules. While they may have been less expensive to produce the lower efficiency meant that it took a larger area to produce electricity—hence sites with space limitations, like roofs, were not a good fit for the technology. The company has focussed on commercial and utility-scale markets and not residential and it didn’t mention any plans to enter the residential market at this time."First Solar's CdTe thin film is now rightly categorized as a high performance product," Raffi Garabedian, First Solar's chief technology officer said of the achievement. "At one time, we might have been characterized as a low cost, low efficiency technology, but consistent with our technology projections we are now proving that CdTe thin film delivers both industry-leading performance and sustainable thin-film cost structures."
The company has continually improved efficiency of its technologies and said that this was its eighth significant announcement of efficiency advancements since 2011. Earlier this year, for instance, the company produced a 21.5 percent efficient PV cell, which shows that future improvements are possible.
"While silicon technologies have approached their theoretical efficiency entitlement and leveled out in terms of performance and cost, First Solar continues to harvest the upside available from its superior thin film technology,” Garabedian contended. “Our CdTe modules are now more efficient than the best multi-crystalline silicone modules, and we still have a great deal of technology head room for further innovation.”
With the higher-level efficiencies First Solar’s modules will offer more power for less ground coverage than multi-crystalline PV panels, according to Nick Strevel, First Solar's senior manager of technology. "A narrow focus on simple metrics such as standard-test-condition efficiency or cost per STC-watt obscures the actual value of solar generation technologies.” He said when modules with the new efficiency level are introduced to market they will provide up to 8 percent more useable energy from the same land area than the multi-crystalline solar panels, creating a power plant with a lower levelized cost of electricity.Tweet