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New world record for solar cell efficiency set at 46%

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A new world record for the conversion of sunlight into electricity has been established in Europe, after a multi-junction solar cell developed through a French-German collaboration achieved 46 per cent efficiency – up from 43.6%.

The record was achieved using a four-junction cell, developed by Soitec and CEA-Leti in France, together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Germany as one of a new generation of multi-junction solar cells, developed specifically for concentrator PV plants, and expected to have an efficiency potential as high as 50 per cent under concentrated sunlight.

Each of the cell’s four sub-cells converts precisely one quarter of the incoming photons into electricity, thanks to precise tuning of the composition and thicknesses of each layer inside the cell structure.

The new record of 46 per cent efficiency – the cooperation’s second world record in a year – has been confirmed by the Japanese Nationasilex CPV dishesl Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, one of the leading centres for independent verification of solar cell performance results under standard-testing conditions.

“We are very proud of this new world record,” said Jocelyne Wasselin, vice president of solar cell product development at French semicomductor company Soitec.

“It confirms we made the right technology choice when we decided to develop this four-junction solar cell and clearly indicates that we can demonstrate 50 per cent efficiency in the near future.

“To produce this new generation of solar cells, we have already installed a line in France. It uses our bonding and layer-transfer technologies and already employs more than 25 engineers and technicians,” added Wasselin.

“I have no doubt that this successful cooperation with our French and German partners will drive further increase of CPV technology efficiency and competitiveness.”

Dr Frank Dimroth, project manager for the cell development at the German Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE describes CPV as “the most efficient solar technology today”, suitable for most countries with decent solar resources.  

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  • Rob G

    As time marches on these kind of improvements will continue and the solar story will just get better and better. Whereas in fossil fuel land there’s nothing new to report, its just same old same old. The gap is getting wider by the day both of cost and on efficiency, fossil fuels are being left behind.

    • Billy Banegas

      And yet in many threads on the subject of solar, there are plenty people ready to defend big oil with lies. Someone must be paying them, I can’t figure any other reason.

  • MorinMoss

    So when will I have something I can stick on my roof for 20 yrs with minimal upkeep that’ll convert 33% of sunlight to electricity?

    • Jo

      Most likely never. 33% is about the theoretical limit for PV cells without solar concentration. And there is quite a drop from the efficiency of a cell to the efficiency of a module.
      How about just adding a few more panels? This may be hard on many Australian homes because of the multi-angled roofs we fancy. Gabled roofs provide much more roof space for solar PV.

    • WR

      There is a fair chance that researchers will develop a cost-effective two-junction cell that can be used in residential panels and that will deliver 30% efficiency. But it is expected to take up to 20 years for it to happen.

      • Billy Banegas

        I wonder though, with the advances in efficiency coming everyday, I might want to replace my panels in 15 years anyway, just thinking.

    • Miles Harding

      Luckily, most domestic roofs are fairly big, so efficiency isn’t really an issue beyond a certain point. Most households have sufficient roof to supply more than their needs at current efficiencies.

      Even lower PV module costs are not really an issue when the bulk of the system cost is other stuff like installation, wiring, mounting frames, inverters, approvals etc. (and batteries?)

      One concern I have is the availability of the cells. The PV industry is dependent on small amounts of rare materials used to make the semiconductors in the PV panel. Insufficient thought is going into the availability of these essential inputs. This may point to less efficient PV cells that use more common materials being used in the future. Availability and not efficiency may be the driving factor.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Concentrating solar units currently can be over 30% efficient. The installation will be thicker than a standard PV panel though and you’ll pay a premium for it. The “cannot be more than 10 cm above the roof” thing may cause you problems with your council though.

      If you are trying to max out your solar production for environmental reasons then it would be more cost effective to put as much standard flat panel PV on your roof as possible and then buy your grandmother a solar system. You may want to consider forcing your grandmother to move to Victoria so her new rooftop solar system will be in the filthiest, most CO2 intensive state. Contributing to shutting down a brown coal plant should outweigh the greater levels of insolation in say Queensland. (Or you could just buy someone in Victoria a solar power system. A charity maybe.)

  • My company, OPTICAL ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES INC. Stamford CT USA, has developed a hybrid PV/solar thermal system using off-the-shelf SunpremeTM PV panels, using our rubber tube mats pressed against the rear surface of the panels, which cools the panels to close to their 25°C (77°F) rated electrical outputs, thus increasing their daily average electrical output by up to 13%, while also generating pre-heated domestic hot water in the spring-summer-fall months, or anywhere the ambient air temperature is above 20°C. With rear reflective enhancement, the electrical efficiency of the Sunpreme panels in our system, combined with the cooling effect of the DHW pre-heating achieves and total solar energy effective efficiency of > 30% in PV+thermal energy harvesting. With available tax rebates in the US, this reduces the payback period for these systems to under 3 years. When the rebates expire, the payback will still be less than 6 years.

    In developing countries, a single panel of this system can provide electricity and hot water to a house in rural areas where there is no grid power. Since all the components in these systems are off-the-shelf, and require no development, these systems are available now. We seek world wide distribution for this product.

    This system can also be applied to flat roof industrial applications by circulating water or anti-freeze through the rubber tube mats and dissipating the solar panel heat to simple fin-tube air dissipators to the atmosphere using thermosyphonation.

    This is described in the link to our website:

    http://www.opticalenergy.com/hybrid

    • Divinity123

      Hi Gerald

      My name is Daniel am based in South Africa. I would like to have a conversation with you regarding your technology and possible deployment into Africa.

      Please reach me on daniel.mataruka@in-situtech.com