GE Research Achieves CdTe PV Efficiency Record

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Rather quietly, GE Research has bested First Solar for the cadmium telluride PV cell efficiency record.

Clocking in at 18.3 percent, the new record edges First Solar’s previous mark by a full 1 percent. First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) hit 17.3 percent about a year ago.

Presumably, this record was set using the PrimeStar Solar technology acquired by GE in the April 2011 acquisition of the Colorado firm. PrimeStar/GE uses (as did Abound) a close space sublimation (CSS) process for CdTe manufacturing, while First Solar uses a vapor transport deposition (VTD) process. (Note that the GE record is for a cell. First Solar still holds the module record at an NREL-measured 14.4 percent.)

General Electric announced plans to go into production in Colorado with 13 percent panels, and then backed off those plans in July 2012.  A spokesperson for the firm told GTM in an earlier interview that GE remains firmly committed to solar panel production and the plan is to revamp GE’s process to reach 15-percent-efficiency panels.

The test data was was reported in the most recent issue of Progress in Photovoltaics, but word of this record came from a GTM reader who spotted it on the NREL record solar cell efficiency chart. This is the NREL solar efficiency record chart that launched a hundred solar startups and has lured investors to bet on the learning curves of CIGS, a-si, OSCs, and CPV.

Once these records were the domain of labs, government-affiliated entities, or universities.

But Alta Devices’ flexible single-junction gallium arsenide (GaAs) photovoltaics hit 28.8 percent cell efficiencies. Startups such as Amonix (HCPV system), Solar Junction (III-V Triple Junction), and Solexel (thin-film c-Si) lead their respective chemistries. It’s certainly a testament to the risk-taking and smarts of these solar entrepreneurs and investors. It’s also a potential indictment of an underfunded energy research sector that has left VCs shouldering applied research.

First Solar has lost the lead in hero-cell efficiency, but still holds a bit of an edge in megawatts deployed — the firm’s 2012 guidance is for net sales of $3.5 billion to $3.8 billion at a module manufacturing cost below $0.70 per watt.

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