Leading thin-film PV manufacturer First Solar has surpassed multicrystalline module conversion efficiencies for the first time with its CdTe module efficiency reaching a record 18.6%.
First Solar said that the 18.6% aperture area efficiency corresponds to a full area conversion efficiency of 18.2% and was measured and certified by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
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“First Solar's CdTe thin film is now rightly categorized as a high performance product,” said Raffi Garabedian, First Solar's Chief Technology Officer. “At one time, we might have been characterized as a low cost, low efficiency technology, but consistent with our technology projections we are now proving that CdTe thin film delivers both industry-leading performance and sustainable thin-film cost structures.”
“A narrow focus on simple metrics such as standard-test-condition (STC) efficiency or cost per STC-watt obscures the actual value of solar generation technologies,” said Nick Strevel, First Solar's Senior Manager of Technology. “Customers value energy produced by a solar power plant (kWh), not its nominal STC power rating. Metrics with greater relevance to real-world conditions – including specific energy yield, energy density, cost/kWh and long term reliability – ultimately tell a much more comprehensive story of real-world performance and are more influential in reducing Levelized Cost of solar Electricity.”
According to Strevel, First Solar's CdTe module would provide up to 8% more useable energy from the same land area when compared to multicrystalline modules.
First Solar also noted that the best multicrystalline modules using PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) technology had an approximate full area efficiency of 17.7% (based on 19.1% aperture efficiency and published module area data).
The company has increasingly focused on boosting CdTe cell and module efficiencies in recent years. The latest record efficiency is the company’s eighth major update since 2011.
At the beginning of the year, First Solar reported a research cell with a conversion efficiency of 21.5%, which was said to have been certified at the Newport Corporation's Technology and Applications Center (TAC) PV Lab and confirmed by NREL.
First Solar has topped PV Tech’s annual R&D spending report for six consecutive years amongst 12 major PV manufacturers. The company again ranked first in 2014, increasing R&D spending to US$143.9 million, up from US$134.3 million in 2013.
PV Tech’s 2014 annual R&D spending report will appear in a forthcoming edition of sister quarterly journal, Photovoltaics International.