New R&D test cells produced at First Solar’s Perrysburg, Ohio factory and R&D centre have reached a new record cell conversion efficiency of 18.7%. The record was verified by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and announced by First Solar yesterday.

It has been over a year since First Solar announced in July 2011 that it had achieved a record cell efficiency of 17.3%, which was recently surpassed by rival GE with a reported cell efficiency of 18.3%.

Raffi Garabedian, First Solar's Chief Technology Officer said: "This achievement showcases the huge potential of CdTe compared to other PV technologies and highlights the performance gains we continue to achieve thanks to our consistent and strong investment in R&D.”

Indeed, PV-Tech recently highlighted that First Solar has long been leading the pack in R&D spending, heavily out-spending any of its rivals over the last five years.

However, falling polysilicon prices and conventional crystalline silicon cell efficiency gains have virtually eliminated First Solar’s previous cost per watt leadership position.

First Solar has needed to push both cell efficiencies higher and at a faster rate as well as bring meaningful cell efficiency gains into volume module production to preserve its competitive position.

Average production module efficiencies reached 12.9% in the fourth quarter of 2012, up 0.7% from 12.2% in the same period of 2011. Best line module performance in the fourth quarter of 2012 was 13.1%, up 0.5% from 12.6% in the prior ear period.

First Solar has already made moves and motions to boost efforts in these directions and is preparing to provide an update on this strategy at an analyst meeting in April 2013, to be held in New York as part of providing full-year financial guidance.