Pluto Takes the Prize
Just two years ago, the planet Pluto was downgraded to dwarf-planet status — but with SunTech Power’s announcement of its record breaking Pluto crystalline silicon (c-Si) photovoltaic (PV) solar module, the name Pluto is being venerated once again.
Conversion efficiency for c-Si PV solar modules has always been a prize bragging right. Recently, Chinese photovoltaic module maker SunTech Power announced that they had achieved a new world record of 15.6% conversion efficiency on their commercial grade c-Si PV modules, nudging out U.S. Sandia National Labs with its previous record of 15.5% set 15 years ago.
This module efficiency performance is important for a number of reasons. First off, breaking the record that stood for 15 years is significant in itself. More important is the fact that this record — one that had been established by a non-commercial national laboratory — was broken by a commercial solar cell that will be in the market this year. This is a clear indication of the commercialization of solar and the drive to continue to reduce the overall cost per watt. Efficiency is one of the primary driving factors due to its impact on overall “balance of systems” cost (the lower the efficiency, the higher the balance of systems cost). In addition, there is the pragmatic requirement that cells with lower efficiency simply do not fit particular applications. For example, virtually all rooftop installations are done with the higher efficiency crystalline or multi-crystalline silicon cells.
The breaking of this record was impressive, though as we all know records are made to be broken. Novel cell and module designs are presently undergoing testing by multiple research groups at national labs. With our present accelerated rate of development, it is likely we will be hearing about new records soon.