A high-efficiency silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell developed at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has been named among this year’s most significant innovations by R&D Magazine.
TetraSun, now a division of First Solar, Inc., has developed an innovative cell architecture and manufacturing process with the potential to break the historical tie between high-efficiency and high-cost photovoltaic energy generation and represents an important step toward economically and environmentally compelling alternatives to fossil fuel-based energy production.
Relative to conventional crystalline solar cells, TetraSun’s proprietary architecture allows for a greater percentage of incoming sunlight to be converted to electricity. Additionally, the company has reduced the typical manufacturing cost of high-efficiency solar cells with a more streamlined, simplified process flow and the elimination of certain costly materials. For instance, TetraSun’s metallization process replaces silver, a high-cost commodity used in traditional screen printed solar cells, with copper, which is much lower cost and subject to less market-based price volatility.
“There has been tremendous focus on improving cell efficiency and cost in the solar industry. Often, technical advancements that offer efficiency improvements are significantly more complex and costly to manufacture while innovations that serve to reduce cost result in marginal improvements to efficiency,” said NREL Senior Project Manager Harin Ullal. “TetraSun’s technology is special because it offers improvements in both performance and production cost at the same time.”
NREL performed characterization and reliability measurements on modules manufactured with TetraSun cells and collaborated with the company’s technical team to develop and implement modifications to the measured modules, contributing to improved product performance and reliability.
Leading the team for TetraSun were: Oliver Schultz-Wittmann, Denis DeCeuster, Adrian Turner, and Doug Crafts. NREL’s team included Harin Ullal, Peter Hacke, Chunsheng Jiang, Richard Mitchell, Mowafak Al-Jassim and Martha Symko-Davies.
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