Solar panel breaks "third of a sun" efficiency barrier
November 2, 2012
Embattled photovoltaic solar power manufacturer Amonix announced on Tuesday that it has broken the solar module efficiency record, becoming the first manufacturer to convert more than a third of incoming light energy into electricity – a goal once branded "one third of a sun" in a Department of Energy initiative. The Amonix module clocked an efficiency rating of 33.5 percent.
During a period of testing by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory back in May, a peak efficiency of 34.2 percent was achieved, which Amonix claims is the highest ever reached by a PV module under real-world conditions. However, Amonix is only now drawing attention to the breakthrough, which saw its own record of 30.3 percent efficiency broken.
Amonix modules employ concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) technology, which add optical whizbangery such as mirrors and lenses to concentrate more direct sunlight onto individual solar cells. The technology is not to be confused with concentrated solar power, which applies similar optical technology to solar thermal systems which heat water, but also generate electricity with the addition of a heat engine.
The solar module efficiency is the efficiency of the panel, and not the same as the efficiency of individual solar cells from which it's comprised. At the moment, solar cell efficiency can just exceed 43 percent for concentrated systems. It's the module efficiency, however, which reflects the amount of electricity a PV system can produce.
The breakthrough could provide a shot in the arm for Amonix, which, the Las Vegas Review Journal recently reported, closed its Las Vegas manufacturing center in July. Though it's tempting to write Amonix's hardships into the narrative of Western solar manufacturers struggling to compete in a market awash with cheap solar panels from China, the Review Journal piece hints at a more complex and unfortunate cocktail of woes.
Whatever the difficulties, the technological edge that this record demonstrates certainly can't hurt the company's chances of future success.