Doubters continually claim that renewable energy needs “dramatic breakthroughs” in the lab to succeed. What they fail to recognize is steady technology advances are already underway with existing technologies — and cumulatively they add up to game changers.
Leading thin-film producer First Solar announced yesterday that it had achieved a world-record efficiency of 17.3 percent for its cadmium-telluride cells, dramatically surpassing the previous record set in a government lab by .5 percent.
This is a major step for First Solar’s technology, which will help the company continue to drive down manufacturing costs. It currently produces modules for 75 cents a watt (almost 25 cents lower than the lowest conventional panel producers) at an efficiency of 11.7 percent. These improvements in cost and efficiency come during a very competitive time for solar manufacturers, which are seeing intense downward pressure on prices. First Solar is currently constructing more than 1,300 MW of solar PV projects in the U.S. The company says that it could be producing modules more than 14 percent efficient in the next few years.
A few other companies have made similar announcements in recent months: California-based SunPower, a leading manufacturer and installer of silicon-based solar PV, said it had created a 20-percent efficient module from 22.4 percent efficient cells; leading Chinese producer Suntech said it developed a new 15.2 percent high-efficiency module using 18-percent efficient cells; and Georgia-based Suniva announced a 16-percent efficiency for its new panel.