While there appear to be few signs of solar module market share being wrestled away from crystalline silicon producers to thin film anytime soon, the efficiency progress of the leading CIGS and CdTe technologies continues. The latest achievement has been recorded by Avancis, which has hit 17.9% efficiency on a module with an aperture area of 622 cm2.
Avancis claims the result represents a CIGS aperture "record efficiency" and it certainly improves on previous full-sized module records set by Taiwanese semiconductor giant TSMC (16.5%) and equipment supplier Manz (16%). While Manz is still attempting to sell one its CIGSfabs deploying its technology, TSMC stepped out of the solar business in August 2015.
The 17.9% Avancis champion module was produced on the company’s production facility in Torgau, Germany. Avancis reports that the efficiency increase was achieved through reducing cell width, optimizing the ZnO layer, Al front contact and through improved laser ablation, leading to a reduction in the dead zone between the CIGS cells.
"Transferring that result into production would lead to CIGS modules with the impressive power of 170 Wp on a PowerMax product size of 1m²," said Avancis CTO Jörg Palm. "Our products exhibit not only typical application advantages of thin-film modules but also efficiency ranges previously restricted to poly-silicon based products." Palm added that CIGS modules with this level of performance can now be deployed in space-constrained applications, generally rooftops, a market segment that has been previously dominated by crystalline silicon technology.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) certified the efficiency result.
Avancis was acquired by Chinese building materials and glass supplier CNBM in 2014. CNBM is understood to be equipping a manufacturing facility with an initial 300 MW capacity, for the production of Avancis CIGS modules, to be completed in 2017. CNBM’s reported plan is to increase that to GW-scale over time.
Avancis’ technology is well suited to BIPV applications, given its sleek all-black aesthetics, an avenue the Chinese building materials giant may well be looking to pursue. Additionally, Avancis modules are cadmium-free, delivering an environmental advantage for modules if they are to be integrated into building facades or roofs.
On the cell level, Japan’s Solar Frontier has achieved 22.3% on a 0.5cm x 0.5cm cell in December 2015, and German research institute the ZSW 21.7%, on a cell of the same size, in September 2014.
Besides its production facilities in Torgau, Avancis says teams at its research center in Munich, and a team in Korea all provided input into 17.9% min-module record.