CIGS solar cell research brings thin-film efficiency above 20%

Researchers from Germany’s ZSW have developed a thin-film solar cell with +20% efficiency, bettering their own record. The CIGS photovoltaics produced is expected to reduce solar cell cost and materials bulk.

(August 25, 2010) — Scientists at the Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung Baden-Württemberg, Germany (Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research, ZSW) have achieved a new success increasing solar cells’ electricity yield. The Stuttgart researchers produced thin-film solar cells with a top efficiency of 20.3%. With this performance, they exceed their own world record – and minimize to only 0.1 percent the advance of the multi-crystalline solar cells still dominating the market. The new record-breaking solar cells from ZSW are made of extremely thin layers of copper, indium, gallium and diselenide (CIGS). This saves materials and costs. The new results should significantly improve the cost-effectiveness of CIGS thin-film photovoltaics over the medium term.

The cell has a area. The semiconducting CIGS layer and the contact layers have a total thickness of 4 thousandths of a mm, making them 50 times thinner than standard silicon cells. “Our researchers have made the cells in a CIGS laboratory coating plant using a modified co-evaporation process, which in principle can be scaled up to commercial production processes,”says Dr. Michael Powalla, member of the Board and head of the Photovoltaics Division at ZSW. The Fraunhofer ISE in Freiburg, Germany has confirmed the new results. It will take a while before the increased efficiency of CIGS solar cells can be commercially utiliZed, Powalla said.

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Innovative research and the professionalization of production will further increase the efficiency of thin-film solar modules. Within the next years, the efficiency of the relatively low-priced CIGS thin-film solar modules will rise from about 11% to about 15%, experts say. Higher efficiencies improve the electrical power output and thus the financial returns delivered by photovoltaic systems. Experts assume that the CIGS thin-film technology is facing a great commercial future. Compared to 2008, in 2012 the market share of thin-film power plants is expected to double, reaching around 30%.

The ZSW is one of the most renowned German research institutes in the fields of photovoltaics, energy systems analysis, renewable fuels, battery technology, and fuel cells. More information available at

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