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CIGS thin film solar cells beat silicon efficiency

Posted: 08 Jul 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Empa? thin film? solar cell? CIGS? silicon?

A European consortium of eleven partners in eight countries has claimed to have developed an efficient alternative to silicon that achieves 25 per cent efficiency with its Sharc25 (super-high efficiency CIGS thin-film solar cells) programme. It aims to produce single-junction thin-film solar cells that rival silicon at 25 per cent efficiency for a fraction of the cost of the cheap low-efficiency Chinese varieties.

Today run-of-the-mill single-crystal silicon solar cells, the most used variety, average about 25 per cent efficiency, although advanced designs have been reported to have efficiencies approaching the theoretical limit of 33 per cent. The cheap thin-film variety favoured by Chinese manufacturers and other low-cost solar cell suppliers use achieve significantly lower efficiencies, although last month Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), the Photovoltaic Power Generation Technology Research Association (PVTEC), Sharp, Panasonic and Mitsubishi reported a triple-junction thin-film solar cell built in a joint venture that achieved in excess of 13 per cent efficiency.

The Sharc25 project, coordinated by the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Wurttemberg (ZSW, Stuttgart, Germany) was funded to the tune of $6.9 million by the European Union's Horizon 2020 programme in conjunction with the Swiss government's Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology at Eidgenossische Materialprufungs und Forschungsanstalt (Empa, Dubendorf, Switzerland).

"Our solar cells could be used for small devices such as wearables," said Ayodhya Tiwari, head of Empa's Thin Film and Photovoltaics laboratory and the scientific coordinator of Sharc25. "But our main interest is large scale power generation for applications in buildings and solar farms on a utility scale."

Patrick Reinhard and Benjamin Bessig

Empa doctoral candidates Patrick Reinhard and Benjamin Bessig check out the latest run of thin-film solar cells aiming for 25 per cent efficiency. (Source: Empa)

Many other solar cell researchers worldwide have tried to increase the efficiency of thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) solar cells, and indeed have made advances in the last few years, some of which could be called breakthroughs, nevertheless no thin-film solar cell technology today rivals silicon. Empa, on the other hand, believes it has the hubris and the funding to achieve the as yet unachieved goal. Why?

"Because of the breakthrough results achieved during the last two years, and our analyses of the remaining losses in efficiency for which we see possibilities for further improvement. In science you follow logical facts and work on certain assumptions with good conviction based on your experience and knowledge provided by other experts. Innovation and breakthroughs are probable and we work to achieve success by trying our best and hoping for advancements," noted Tiwari.

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