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New CIGS Solar Cell Efficiency Record

Researchers from the Germany Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW) have broken a new efficiency record for thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide solar cells.

The researchers produced a 20.3 percent efficient cell, only a fraction less than the best multi-crystalline cells on the market. However, producing a cell in a lab is much different than mass production. CIGS cells typically reach about 10-11 percent when manufactured in large numbers.

The area of the world record cell is 0.5 square centimeters. The semiconducting CIGS layer and the contact layers have a total thickness of only four thousandths of a millimeter, making them 50 times thinner than standard silicon cells.

CIGS cells have received a lot of attention in recent years because of their high efficiency. But scaling the technology outside of the lab has been difficult because of the complexity of manufacturing. Many companies have been bogged down in building new manufacturing lines and have burned through copious amounts of capital with little to show.

Within the next years, the efficiency of the relatively low-priced CIGS thin-film solar modules will rise from about 11 percent to about 15 percent, say ZSW researchers. The question is: Will companies be able to finally capitalize on that efficiency gain? Or will they continue to be bogged down by high capital requirements and low product volumes?

Some companies, like the start-up Applied Quantum Technologies, have learned from the problems that have hurt CIGS producers and are taking a more modular, incremental approach to building manufacturing lines.

One of the older companies in the CIGS space, MiaSole, announced this week that it will be supplying the developer juwi Solar with 7.5 MW of modules for projects in Germany. Miasole said earlier this year that it would ship over 20-MW of product. However, it is still unclear if it will sell that much in the remainder of 2010.

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