First Solar achieves world record 18.6 percent thin film module conversion efficiency

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First Solar, Inc. today announced it has set a world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) module conversion efficiency, achieving 18.6 percent aperture efficiency for an advanced full-size module. The company demonstrated a record module that is more efficient than the best multi-crystalline module recorded. The record has been measured and certified by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The 18.6 percent aperture area efficiency corresponds to a full area conversion efficiency of 18.2 percent, which easily beats the best recorded multi-crystalline Si PERC module with an approximate full area efficiency of 17.7 percent (based on 19.1 percent aperture efficiency and published module area data).

This achievement is the eighth substantial update to CdTe record efficiency since 2011. In January, First Solar produced a research cell with 21.5 percent conversion efficiency, certified at the Newport Corporation’s Technology and Applications Center (TAC) PV Lab and confirmed by NREL.

“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.”

Nick Strevel, First Solar’s senior manager of technology, noted that efficiency combined with other real-world performance attributes result in First Solar technology delivering higher energy density than multi-crystalline Silicon (m-Si) solar panels. Given the same installed nameplate module capacity with equivalent ground coverage ratio, he said, First Solar’s CdTe product will provide up to 8 percent more useable energy from the same land area than m-Si, which gives First Solar a competitive advantage over other PV technologies.

“A narrow focus on simple metrics such as standard-test-condition (STC) efficiency or cost per STC-watt obscures the actual value of solar generation technologies,” said Strevel. “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.”

First Solar’s modules are among the most reliable in the world, having passed the industry’s most rigorous multi-stress testing protocols including Atlas 25+, IEC Long Term Sequential, and Thresher Tests.

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