Just last year, Republican lawmakers were trying to tarnish First Solar, Inc, because the Department of Energy provided loan guarantees to the company. But politics couldn’t sink the word’s largest producer of thin-film solar panels; this week, the company announced that it set a new world record for cadmium-telluride solar cell conversion by achieving 18.7 percent efficiency. That still isn’t as efficient as some other types of solar systems, but because thin-film solar panels are cheap and easy to produce, it represents a major breakthrough.
Thin-film solar panels are thinner, lighter and more flexible than other types of photovoltaic panels, which means that they could be used in a wider range of applications. But solar companies like First Solar are trying to squeeze a bit more efficiency out of thin-film panels in order to make them more competitive with other types of solar panels. In the fourth quarter of 2012, First Solar increased its average production module efficiency to 12.9 percent — up 0.7 percentage points from 12.2 percent in Q4 2011. But achieving 18.7 percent cell efficiency in these latest tests marks a big step up from that.
Although silicon is still king in the world of solar cell production, cadmium-telluride (CdTe) thin film solar cell shows a lot of promise because it is so lightweight and cheap to produce. “This achievement showcases the huge potential of CdTe compared to other PV technologies and highlights the performance gains we continue to achieve thanks to our consistent and strong investment in R&D,” said Raffi Garabedian, First Solar’s Chief Technology Officer.
Photos via First Solar