Showa Shell Unit Achieves Record 17.8% Solar Efficiency in Lab

Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K.’s Solar Frontier unit reached a record 17.8 percent efficiency in converting sunlight to power in part of a thin-film panel using a process it plans to replicate in its factory in Japan.

The test result exceeded its March 2011 record of 17.2 percent, the Tokyo-based company said today in an emailed statement. Modules produced at Solar Frontier’s factory in southern Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture can convert as much as 13.38 percent of the sun’s rays into electricity.

Boosting photovoltaic efficiency increases output and reduces the cost of the electricity produced by the panel. Solar Frontier is the world’s biggest producer of thin-film solar panels made with copper-indium-gallium-selenide.

First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Arizona, is the largest maker of thin-film panels and uses a different semiconducting material called cadmium-telluride that achieved 17.3 percent efficiency in a lab last year.

Thin-film solar manufacturers apply the compounds directly onto sheets of glass in a more automated process than used with standard photovoltaic panels made of polysilicon, which are largely made in China and assembled in stages.

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