A new world record has been set for the energy efficiency of a specific type of thin-film photovoltaic solar cell that turns sunlight into electricity at a fraction of the cost of traditional silicon cells, according to the company that manufactured the cell.
First Solar Inc., based in Tempe, Ariz., announced last week that a test of its thin-film cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic solar cell set a record efficiency of 17.3 percent, which is an overall measurement of several types of efficiencies Some of the efficiencies included in this measurement are the absorption of light, the conversion of photons into electrons and the ability of electrons to move through the solar cell material and be captured as electricity.
The efficiency of First Solar’s CdTe cell eclipsed the previous record of 16.6 percent set in 2001 and was confirmed by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab.
Although CdTe solar cells are cheaper to produce than thin-film crystalline silicon cells, they’re also less efficient. Currently, crystalline silicon cells produce efficiencies from the high teens to the low 20s.
First Solar uses a continuous manufacturing process that transforms a sheet of glass into a complete solar module in less than 2.5 hours. The company said that it expects its roadmap for CdTe solar cells to lead to production of thin-film CdTe cells with efficiencies of between 13.5 percent and 14.5 percent by the end of 2014.
How Stuff Works website, “How Solar Cells Work.”
“Solar Power Lightens Up with Thin-Film Technology,” Scientific American, April 25, 2008.
“First Solar Sets World Record for CdTe Solar PV Efficiency,” First Solar Inc. press release, July 26, 2011.
“New Cell Sets Record,” Today’s Energy Solutions, Aug. 2, 2011.