First Solar full module efficiency of 18.2%

First Solar has continued its rapid push towards major efficiency improvements for its CdTe PV semiconductor technology. A module efficiency of 18.2% represents a major boost for not only First Solar, but for CdTe technology and also thin film in general.

The Tempe-based manufacturer notes that the module efficiency "easily beats" the best multicrystalline c-Si PERC module efficiency, which has reached 17.7%, from a 19.1% aperture efficiency.

"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."

First Solar has not indicated when the technology improvements delivering the new module record can be applied to its full scale production lines in Malaysia and the U.S. First Solar achieved its most recent CdTe cell conversion efficiency record, of 21.5%, in January of this year.

The company’s senior manager of technology Nick Strevel said that given thin film technology’s superior performance in terms of kilowatt-hours per watt-peak over crystalline silicon, of up to eight percent according to Frist Solar, the efficiency record takes on even more significance.

"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," said Strevel.

In April First Solar revealed that it had worked with German equipment supplier Von Ardenne on its CdTe deposition tooling. It extended a contract with Intermolecular Inc. to accelerate R&D improvements in 2013, a move that appears to be paying off.

In its release announcing the 18.2% module efficiency record, First Solar noted that c-Si technology is approaching its theoretical efficiency limits, while thin film technology generally has further headroom in which to grow.