First Solar, Inc.(Nasdaq: FSLR) announced it set a new world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) module conversion efficiency, achieving a record 16.1 percent total area module efficiency in tests confirmed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The new record is a substantial increase over the prior record of 14.4 percent efficiency, which the Company set in January 2012. Separately, First Solar also set a record for CdTe open circuit voltage (VOC), a critical parameter for PV performance, reaching 903.2 millivolts (mV) in NREL-certified testing. This new record marks the first substantial increase in CdTe VOC in over a decade of international R&D. The new records come just six weeks after First Solar announced a new world record for CdTe solar cell efficiency of 18.7 percent.
Transferring its success in the R&D lab to its commercial modules, First Solar also launched a new evolution of its proven Series 3 thin-film PV module platform, the Series 3 BlackTM, which incorporates First Solar’s latest advances in conversion efficiency as well as additional features to enhance its performance in utility-scale power plants. The all-black module’s change in appearance results from the use of an advanced, all-black edge seal technology combined with an innovative encapsulation material that further enhances its field durability and demonstrates improvements in accelerated life testing results.
The Series 3 Black’s performance in a wide range of operating environments is further validated by its new IEC 60068-2-68 “sand and dust test” certification, which measures durability in harsh desert environments characterized by blowing abrasive sand. The certification complements existing IEC salt mist and ammonia certifications to provide a comprehensive range of independent testing that reflect world-class durability and performance in the harshest operating conditions. The Series 3 Black module maintains all the existing IEC certifications and UL listings for the Series 3 family which enable the 1000-volt system designs that typify the Company’s utility-scale power plants. First Solar began to implement the Series 3 Black enhancements in production modules earlier this year.
Based on the Company’s record-setting technology and robust Series 3 Black platform, the Company also has accelerated its module conversion efficiency roadmap, raising its lead production line module efficiency target for 2015 to 15-16.2 percent. First Solar also extended its module conversion efficiency roadmap to 2017, with targets for lead production line module efficiency of 16.2-16.9 percent in 2016 and 16.4-17.1 percent in 2017.
“We are especially proud of this new efficiency record because the technology was created for production-scale implementation, as evidenced by our accelerated efficiency roadmaps,” said Raffi Garabedian, First Solar’s Chief Technology Officer. “Measurements in the lab are an important benchmark, but our R&D mission is to deliver technology that is designed to shine in real-world conditions as part of our integrated power plant systems, engineered to deliver the best performance, reliability and value for our customers. The Series 3 Black is a testament to our integrated approach to product development, combining technological advances from the lab with years of real-world data and experience operating utility-scale power plants in harsh environments.”
Since it began commercial production in 2002, First Solar has produced more than 90 million of its advanced thin-film solar modules with a capacity of over 7 gigawatts (GW), enough to provide clean electricity for more than 3.7 million homes and displace approximately 5 million metric tons of CO2 annually, based on world averages. If laid end-to-end, the modules would circle the equator nearly three times. First Solar utilizes a continuous manufacturing process which transforms a sheet of glass into a complete solar module in less than 2.5 hours, contributing to the industry-leading energy payback time and low carbon footprint of systems using First Solar PV modules.