A company called First Solar has just raised the bar for every other photovoltaic cell manufacturer by setting a record for PV efficiency. First solar, among other things, makes cadmium-telluride (CdTe) solar cells and increased their efficiency to 17.3-percent.
According to First Solar, “…it set a new world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) solar cell efficiency, reaching 17.3 percent with a test cell constructed using commercial-scale manufacturing equipment and materials. The test cell’s performance, confirmed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), far surpassed the previous record of 16.7 percent set in 2001 … The average efficiency of First Solar modules produced in the first quarter of 2011 was 11.7 percent, up from 11.1 percent a year earlier, and the company has recorded full-module efficiencies over 13.5 percent, with a 13.4 percent module confirmed by NREL. First Solar’s module efficiency roadmap sets a goal for production-module efficiencies of 13.5-14.5 percent by the end of 2014.”
Now, this may not sound like a big deal on first glance, but from early 2011 to mid- 2011, First Solar has increased the efficiency of its solar cells from 11.7-percent to 17.3-percent which is a huge leap for an industry that measures itself by one-tenth of a percent increments.
Look, if you’ve read this far then this means I have you a little excited with this news. But, there is even bigger news in breakthrough solar technology. Just two days ago a startup in Santa Clara, California called Alta Devices scored a huge victory by upping its thin-film gallium-arsenide cell to 28.3-percent efficiency.
According to ieee Spectrum, “The key to achieving the record was photon recycling. When the photons in sunlight are absorbed in a photovoltaic material, they split into an electron and a hole. The electrons that pass out of the cell can be used as electricity, but many of them are lost in the semiconductor when they recombine with a hole to produce either waste heat or a new photon. By carefully growing a high-quality single crystal of gallium arsenide, the company managed to ensure that more than 99 percent of the recombinations would result in new photons.”
Both of these breakthroughs are exciting developments in the field of solar energy. We are at a tipping point my friend where efficiency goes up and cost comes down to a price that is starting to make solar energy competitive with fossil fuels.