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The Solar Efficiency Gap

Companies continue to push solar-cell efficiency records toward theoreticallimits. Are actual production-line solar panels keeping up?

4 min read
solar modules
Top of the line: The efficiency of solar modules lags that of the record-setting cells that companies produce. But “flagship lines” like those incorporating Suniva’s ARTisun Select cells offer better performance—for a price.
Photo: Suniva

In late March, solar-panel manufacturer SunPower Corp. announced that it was beginning limited production of its record-breaking crystalline silicon solar cell, which can achieve up to 24 percent conversion of the sun’s energy. 

That record efficiency is just for individual solar cells, though, and the full panels SunPower makes will likely not get close to that mark: Typically, for these technologies, efficiencies rarely range above 16 to 18 percent. When you consider that the record efficiency for such a cell is over 27 percent and that the theoretical limit is around 29 percent, 16 to 18 percent doesn’t seem so great. 

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Greg Mably

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