US manufacturer and developer SunPower claimed yesterday that the company had made its one billionth high efficiency solar cell since going into manufacturing 11 years ago.

The company said its cells, which can achieve an efficiency of 24.2%, have come a long way since mass production of its A-300 cell started in 2003, when efficiency was at 20%.

SunPower was found to be one of the industry’s biggest spenders on research and development (R&D) in PV Tech’s annual analysis of R&D spending by solar manufacturers. The company has also become a major developer of large-scale, commercial and residential solar power plants, as well as recently launching pilot programmes for combining solar with energy storage in California and Australia.

In a statement announcing the news, SunPower also referred to its forthcoming manufacturing capacity expansion plans. The company is currently building its fourth fab in the Philippines, which is scheduled to start production in early 2015. The new facility, Fab 4, will have a manufacturing capacity of 350MW after ramping takes place, but initially is expected to produce only around 50MW of solar cells next year.

SunPower said it was adding the new fab to meet increased demand. The new fab will produce the latest iteration, Gen 3, of SunPower’s Maxeon back-contact solar cells.

However, PV Tech reported in early August that the company is expected to be capacity constrained next year nonetheless, with ramping of the new facility's capacity to 250MW not expected until 2016. A new ‘giga-fab’ is not scheduled to begin construction until 2017, which when completed will bring SunPower’s production capacity up to 1.8GW of solar.

Tom Werner, SunPower president and chief executive, said the company was “proud of the role we've played to help the global adoption of solar”, referring to the 45% annual growth rate solar has enjoyed worldwide in the last 11 years.

“The SunPower team has worked continually to improve our manufacturing and cost reduction processes in concert with advancements in research and development, always raising our own innovation bar,” Werner added.

“Solar is now more affordable, with demand for the residential, commercial and utility scale power plant markets at historic highs.”