The company’s cadmium telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) module achieved a record 14.4 percent efficiency, or one percentage point greater than the record mark it set in August of 2011.
This record, like the 2011 achievement, has been verified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, one of 12 labs vested in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and operating under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) division.
The new record efficiency is for modules, made at the company's Perrysburg, Ohio factory using proprietary CdTe vapor deposition process on thin film. The company has also won notoriety for its cell efficiency, measured at 17.3 percent and also confirmed by NREL.
Critics might claim that reporting of such incremental increases in solar module efficiency is merely gilding the lily, but in fact it is just such baby steps that will allow solar to reach the Holy Grail of renewable energy technology: grid parity. This is the point at which energy from renewables costs consumers the same as energy from fossil fuels – a milestone which could be reached in the U.S. in as little as two years, or as long as 15 years.
In September of last year, First Solar, the world’s largest solar company, made news with three announcements that firmly positioned it as a leader in the worldwide solar energy revolution.
The first involved providing 150,000 panels for what was then Western Australia’s first utility-scale solar project (defined by the Solar Energy Industry Association, or SEIA, as larger than 1 megawatt, or MW). The second was a 20 MW project called the Roadrunner Solar Energy Generating Facility. The third was VDE certification for its Frankfurt, Germany solar module factory, which allowed First Solar modules to qualify for Italian solar feed-in tariffs, or FITs.
First Solar was also developer-of-record for the 550 MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm and the 230 MW Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One, both constructed courtesy $4.5 billion in DOE loan guarantees, and both successfully sold, the first to GE and NextEra Energy, the second to Exelon Corporation.
No stranger to mega-scale solar power installations, the company has also had its setbacks such as searching until almost the last minute for a buyer for its 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm (the third and final project funded by that $4.5 billion guarantee), and having both its stock price plummet and its CEO, Rob Gillette, leave in 2011.
First Solar’s announcement, of the new level of efficiency for its modules, took place at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. Company executives ascribe the new record for efficiency to First Solar’s continuing investment in R&D, which provides consistent progress, helps drive down solar energy costs (another roadblock to grid parity), and speeds the transition to that clean energy economy avowed by President Obama’s administration.
Image credit: First Solar
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