First Solar has achieved a world record-setting cadmium-telluride (CdTe) solar photovoltaic (PV) cell efficiency of 17.3%, the Tempe, Az.-based thin film solar PV manufacturer announced yesterday. The new world record blew away the previous record of 16.7%, which was set back in 2001. Testing was conducted at the US Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, Colorado.
“This is a significant milestone that demonstrates the ongoing potential of our advanced thin-film technology,” commented First Solar CTO Dave Eaglesham in the press release . “This leap forward in R&D supports our efficiency roadmap for our production modules and will recalibrate industry expectations for the long-term efficiency potential of CdTe technology.”
The new record is a direct result of the company’s sustained commitment to R&D that’s focused on continuous improvement “in both module technology and balance of systems engineering to drive us closer to grid parity,” added CEO Rob Gillette.
Though now proven in the NREL test, it will be some time before Cd-Te cells with 17%+ efficiency are incorporated into First Solar’s production line thin film solar cell manufacturing process. That said, the average efficiency of First Solar’s modules continues to increase.
Module efficiency averaged 11.7% in this year’s first quarter, up from 11.1% in Q1 2010. Average production costs were $0.75 a watt. Management has set a goal of achieving production module efficiencies of 13.5%-14.5% by the end of 2014. The company has already recorded full module efficiencies of more than 13.5%, as well as one with a 13.4% efficiency confirmed by NREL.
Along with pushing to achieve higher conversion efficiencies, management is focused on end-to-end improvement in its continuous manufacturing process. At present, First Solar can turn a sheet of glass into a complete solar module in less than 2.5 hours.
Commitments to making the greatest use of material inputs, as well as minimizing energy inputs for manufacturing, will help keep costs down, shorten investment payback periods, and help maintain a low carbon footprint, according to management.
First Solar has also enacted a “comprehensive, prefunded solar module collection and recycling program,” the first of its kind in the industry. Anyone who wants to dispose of a First Solar module can request collection at any time, at no additional cost, and First Solar will pick up the module and recycle as much as 90% of the material by mass for use in new products.