First Solar: Another record in thin-film solar efficiency

First Solar new solar module efficiency record could help its cadmium-telluride panels remain relevant and competitive in the future.

First Solar set a new world record for efficiency in thin-film solar panels made with cadmium-telluride, a milestone the company hopes to push out of the research lab and into its next generation of products.

First Solar said today its solar panels achieved 14.4 percent efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity, a world record that was confirmed by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab. First Solar held the former record of 13.4 percent efficiency, which was set last year.

The record shouldn't be confused with the company's 17.3 percent solar cell efficiency. Cell efficiency measures the proportion of light converted to energy in a single solar cell. Total area module efficiency measures light conversion across the entire panel, which is made up of individual solar cells. First Solar says solar panel efficiency data provides a more realistic view of real world performance.

The financial health of thin-film solar manufacturers like First Solar is tied largely to the efficiency of their panels. The goal is to produce as much power as possible from a panel. The higher a power rating, the lower the cost-per-watt of a panel.

Without gains in efficiency, thin-film solar companies are at risk of losing a competitive battle with makers of traditional silicon panels, which have experienced a precipitous drop in cost in recent years.

First Solar plans to increase the efficiency of its commercially produced modules -- meaning not in a lab -- to 14.5 to 15 percent by the end of 2015. The average efficiency of First Solar modules in production increased from 11.4 percent in 2010 to 11.7 percent in 2011 and is expected to reach 12.7 percent in the fourth quarter of this year, the company said.

Photo: First Solar


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