Clean Power

Published on January 22nd, 2013 | by James Ayre


New Thin-Film Solar Cell Efficiency Record Set, 20.4%

January 22nd, 2013 by  

A new conversion efficiency record of 20.4% has been set for thin-film solar cells by researchers at Empa and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.


The new record of 20.4% is a big improvement over the previous record achieved by this team (18.7%) in May 2011.

The new flexible solar cells are based on state-of-the-art CIGS technology. CIGS is a semiconducting material composed of: copper, indium, gallium, and (di)selenide. CIGS is known for its potential to generate very cost-effective solar power, but has yet to used or produced on a truly commercial scale.

Besides a high conversion efficiency, CIGS solar cells have the significant advantage of containing much lower levels of the toxic metal cadmium, and of the rare metal tellurium.

The improved efficiency was obtained by “modifying the properties of the CIGS layer, grown at low temperatures, which absorbs light and contributes to the photo-current in solar cells.”

The improved efficiency is making thin-film solar modules even more attractive as a form of power supply. Their best quality, though, is still their potential to be produced using “continuous roll-to-roll manufacturing processes” that will go a long way to cut down on manufacturing costs and lead to low-cost solar cells.

Source: EMPA
Image Credits: EMPA

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • if the power from the solar cells has can efficiently power rods and can bend round corners and up the road, it could replace street lighting and such like. bendy lights can be useful if kept still in the sun and its doesn’t rain. I think it could snap though or and it could spring back and hit you in the face.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Man, that hangover is going to hurt………..

  • Blue Lightning

    There is no such element called ‘telluride’ only a ski hill in Colorado. Possibly you mean Tellurium or Thallium. Either way neither element is a rare earth. Just sayen!?!

    • thanks. i have a feeling his iPad ‘corrected’ that for him and he didn’t notice. updated. (updated the rare earth part, too.)

  • Charles Leduc

    where is this new technology sold?

  • Sean

    Most importantly thin film is lighter than crystaline, which matters in mobile applications

    in mobile applications, solar is competing with very expensive battery power.
    imagine a laptop or tablet that you could sit with the lid closed, or the reverse side of your phone.

  • Bob_Wallace

    An 18% to 20% improvement may not sound like much, but it’s really more than a 10% improvement.

    It means that we would be able to install about 10% fewer panels and get the same amount of power. Right now the major costs for solar is not panels, but “balance of system” (BoS)costs. Fewer panels to be installed means less wire, mounting racks, labor, etc.

    • it is 10% improvement

    • Jimmy

      You got to be carefull of these figures some labs quote efficiency without the laminated glass installed on the top of the solar cell, efficiency drop down when the laminated glass is installed, I’ve have seen figures of solar cell 35% efficiency but after the laminated glass PVA was installed on top of the cell the figure were 8 to 14%.

      • Ronald Brak

        I think they need cleaner glass if that’s the case. Window glass should stop less than 12% of light from as a result of reflection and transmissivity losses, cutting a 35% cell down to 31%. And with all the effort that’s gone into improving the efficiency of solar cells I think there is a good chance they can do better than that.

        • Ronald Brak

          I guess I should mention that these thin cells normally don’t have glass put on top of them.

    • tibi stibi

      exactly. so asuming the price to make these cells stay the same, you will get 10% extra for the same price and less installation cost.

      i just wonder how long it will take to bring these kind of cells to the market. when i look at shops today i see crystalline cell of 18%. 18% is technologie of years and years ago:

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