CleanTechnica is the #1 cleantech-focused
website
 in the world. Subscribe today!


Clean Power Solar cell sets new conversion efficiency record.

Published on September 24th, 2013 | by Tina Casey

24

Cost Of Solar Set To Plummet With New 44.7% Efficiency Record

Share on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someone
September 24th, 2013 by
 
A research team in Europe has achieved a world record-setting solar conversion efficiency of 44.7 percent, and assuming that higher efficiency translates into lower costs (someday), it’s yet another indicator that we’re only at the beginning of a long decline in the cost of solar power.

Solar (and wind, for that matter) is already competitive with or cheaper than coal in US markets, and with solar cell efficiency edging this close to the 50 percent efficiency mark, we’re expecting to see those trend lines grow farther and faster.

44.7% Solar Conversion Efficiency Record

With our usual caveat that there are a number of different solar technologies out there and different ways of measuring conversion efficiency, let’s look at the new record-setting claim.

Solar cell sets new conversion efficiency record.

Record-setting solar cell courtesy of Fraunhofer.

The research partnership consists of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, top cutting edge semiconductor manufacturer Soitec, the French R&D organization CEA-Leti, and the Helmholtz Center Berlin.

The basic technology is a multi-junction solar cell, meaning a cell made up of layers of different semiconductor materials in order to capture the widest possible range of the solar spectrum. Multi-junction cells are typically used in concentrator solar systems.

The group of materials used in this particular cell is the III-V group, which refers to their position on the Periodic Table.

The new record is a significant notch up from the team’s previous achievement of 43.6 percent, set just a few months ago. It looks like Soitec made a key contribution in the form of a new bonding process. Fraunhofer ISE Department Head Frank Dimroth explains:

This four-junction solar cell contains our collected expertise in this area over many years. Besides improved materials and optimization of the structure, a new procedure called wafer bonding plays a central role. With this technology, we are able to connect two semiconductor crystals, which otherwise cannot be grown on top of each other with high crystal quality.

The Fraunhofer team better not relax on their laurels, though. They leapfrogged over Sharp, which announced a triple junction cell with 44.4 percent efficiency in the summer, but that doesn’t leave them much breathing room.

Let’s also note for the record that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has been working with the company Amonix to develop a standard for measuring real-world conversion efficiency over a period of time for installed concentrator solar cell systems. Under those calculations, Amonix staked its flag on the world record for CPV systems earlier this year at 35.9 percent.

A Solar Cell In Every Pot

Getting back to the falling cost of solar power, we’ve come a long way from the days when there were solar cells in space and solar cells on your off-the-grid hippie neighbor’s roof, with nothing in between.

Here in the US, aside from supporting improvements in solar cell efficiency, the Obama Administration has also been chipping away at the “soft costs” of installed solar power, which can account for about half the cost of a typical array.

Solar energy is now so ubiquitous that mainstream home builders such as KB Home are now offering models that seamlessly integrate solar power with home EV charging, too.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

Print Friendly

Share on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someone

Tags: , , , , , , ,


About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Conor Raypholtz

    lets get one thing clear Obama had nothing to do with the research and declining costs are a result of increased sales and better production.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Is that you, John McCain?

      It’s OK if you post under your real name.

  • Christopher McClelland

    o its Cheaper to build solar power which could have potential environmental impacts on fragile desert ecosystems and Wind power that seem to be killing off lots of birds. Nothing is perfect and technologies need time to become safer because we learn from our mistakes. We can use certain frequencies to scare off the birds from the wind mills? Instead of creating huge centralized solar power plants we can put them on the sides/roof tops of buildings in the environment we ourselves live in without effecting the animals environment. Imagine a skyscraper that instead of windows has solar panels that track the sun. and instead of people looking through glass to see outside the building has a few camera’s and every window is replaced with a super high efficiency LED panel. We should be using renewable s as much as possible without wasting our precious and plentiful nonrenewable resources at our 30% efficiency while we suck oceans of oil and endless amounts of coal dry. Wasting those usable resources that took millions of years to create. I think Geo thermal and possibly thermal solar plants is the way to go without creating to much of an impact. Location and the ecosystem are very important factors. Seems as though geo thermal might not have any impact on the surrounding environment since the energy is created deep underground.

  • Christopher McClelland

    So its Cheaper to build solar power which could have potential environmental impacts on fragile desert ecosystems and Wind power that seem to be killing off lots of birds. Nothing is perfect and technologies need time to become safer because we learn from our mistakes. We can use certain frequencies to scare off the birds from the wind farms? We should be using renewable s as much as possible without wasting our precious and plentiful nonrenewable resources at our 30% efficiency while we suck oceans of oil and endless amounts of coal dry. Wasting those usable resources that took millions of years to create. I think Geo thermal and possibly thermal solar plants is the way to go without creating to much of an impact. Location and the ecosystem are very important factors. Seems as though geo thermal might not have any impact on the surrounding environment since the energy is created deep underground.

    • Bob_Wallace

      We are going to break eggs. The only way we eliminate the impact of humans on the planet is for humans to vacate the planet and I don’t think all of us will agree to making that happen.

      Solar’s damage to the desert and wind’s killing of birds is so incredibly blown out of proportion that it’s absurd.

      The overall impact of solar and wind vs. the impact of coal and oil is minuscule.

      Regular “wet rock” geothermal is too geographically limited. If we can perfect “dry rock”/enhanced geothermal then we would probably have a superior way to produce our electricity.

  • Hiram

    I use to work at Amonix. From 2007 – 2011 more or less. After the Company lost Brian. I have n`t heard of them in the news lately. Will the company come back? I hope a lot of good people worked hard over there.

  • almonde24

    Can you heat buildings with this efficiently?Why doesn’t anyone declare the total energy needed for our society?And how much is needed for heating/thermal vs electrical in percentage wise?Also transportation energy requirements and source would be interesting to know!And how much energy is needed to manufacture this new highefficiency panels vs their lifecycle returns?

  • OneHundredbyFifty

    Great news but the article title suggests that somehow this is a breakthrough that will lead to the cost of solar plummeting. It does not back up that claim. This chart shows the renentless progress in cell efficiency. http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images/efficiency_chart.jpg This is just another incremental step in that long march and it does not compare to the impact of providing capital for scaling factories and / or creating market demand as occurred in China over the last few years. http://handlemanpost.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/solyndra-tariffs-and-subsidies-oh-my/

  • NRG4All

    It might be possible to not have trackers for a home unit. A parabolic trough aligned east to west and facing south might work. You would have to “aim” the trough for the time of the year you would want maximum solar insolation. Thus, twice per year the cells would produce at maximum and the rest of the seasons it would be somewhat less but still greater than current cells. The sun rising and setting would still be reflected on the cells but not as efficiently as a tracker. However, as mentioned trackers are expensive. I priced one out at $6,000. Our solar installing company has said after installing thousands of panels they’ve never installed a tracker. It more cost effective to install more panels.

  • mds

    What will Soitec’s cost/W be if they integrate this new 44.7% cell into their concentrator? Will it be cost competitive with PV?

  • JamesWimberley

    It´s trivially true that eficiency gains translate into cost -reductions – in a given technology. But it´s a fallacy to extrapolate from gains in high-end triple-junction devices, sold in tiny quantities to NASA and the Pentagon, to the much lower efficiency mono- and polycrystalline silicon cells that at do the work in the solar boom. The slow and unspectacular gains there – going from 18% to 18.5% say – are multiplied by gigawatts of installation, not kilowatts.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      Yes. The title left me shaking my head. And rolling my eyes.

      Next title might be “Nascar Speeds Increase, Car Prices Set To Plummet!”

    • Omega Centauri

      I didn’t even bother to read the original article. These are just specialized hero cells, they have very very little to do with commodity panels. And CPV just can’t compete against cheap panels. Amonix is bankrupt and shut down their factory.

      • Jack

        She does this all the time then always throws some political garbage in.

      • TinaCasey

        Amonix did close its factory last year (not the first time a company closes a factory) but to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Amonix’s death have been greatly exaggerated. This year, something called Amonix (Zombie Amonix, maybe?) signed a development deal with Solar Junction and has been working with NREL, so I’ll go with the idea that the company is still alive and kicking.

  • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

    This is for concentrating systems which may not show up in residential applications any time soon (need trackers) but it is still nice to see progress at the top end.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Might they start showing up on the top of buildings in cities which have a low roof area to electricity use ratio?

      If you can take what little rooftop space you have and double/more than double the electricity generated then trackers and concentrated might pay their way. Plus tracking extends the solar day.

      Concentrated solar on trackers could be pole/rack-mounted allowing them to install over rooftop AC units/etc., thus increasing usable real estate.

      • Matt

        Think I was at the Boston airport. They have some flat mounted panels and then also some trackers mounted on polls.

      • anderlan

        Good point. With a concentrator with 40% efficient technology and a tracker, stakeholders can triple the yearly output of a plain-jane rooftop array.

      • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

        Trackers are currently too expensive and their failure ratio makes their residential application unviable. If their cost comes down sufficiently, commercial applications may pick up though

        • Bob_Wallace

          A sizable amount of utility scale solar is tracked. As one gets closer to the equator active tracking makes more financial sense.

          With concentrated solar the cells and lenses are going to be more expensive and smaller than regular panels. Tracking would cost less per watt and increasing the solar day would help out the financials.

          • Timothy Poole

            Trackers on average are only about 40% more efficient than fixed position arrays. If you look at how much a tracker costs in relation to its increased production values it’s worthless, just because for the the same price of 2.2KwH mounted on a tracker you can get 6.6KwH mounted in fixed position.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Utility scale solar farms are finding tracking pays for itself. As you get closer to the equator tracking give more boost.

  • Shiggity

    It doesn’t seem like much, but a full percentage point in one year is crazy.

Back to Top ↑