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US solar firm achieves 30.8% efficiency record with next generation PV cell

PV tech world record is step toward target of 38 per cent efficient solar cells, says Californian developer Alta Devices

Reaching for the skies: Alt Devices said it is redefining the boundaries of what is possible with solar power

A US firm has achieved 30.8 per cent solar efficiency with its next generation PV cell technology. Developer Alta Devices in California has said the world record is a step toward its target of 38 per cent efficient solar cells.

The company said the technology will enable battery life to be significantly increased for consumer devices, including smart phones and computer software. 

The NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) verified record has resulted from the company’s first implementation of a new generation “dual junction” solar cell technology which augments Alta Devices’ “single junction” technology. The firm said the technology uses a number of breakthrough approaches to implementing Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) for solar cells.

The dual junction technology builds on the basic GaAs approach, but implements a second junction (or layer) with Indium Gallium Phosphide (InGaP) as the absorber on top of the base cell. Because InGaP uses high-energy photons more efficiently, the new dual junction cell generates more electricity from the same amount of light than a single junction device.

“We are changing the way solar technology is used,” said Chris Norris, president and CEO of Alta Devices. “With our technology, enough energy can be generated from sunlight to effectively power devices in ways not previously possible. We are working with a number of customers who are designing their mobile products to increase battery life; and in some cases, we can provide enough energy to eliminate the need to plug into the electric grid.”

The company said higher efficiency directly translates into more electricity generated from smaller surface areas. Therefore, applying Alta’s highly efficient, very thin and flexible mobile power technology to consumer devices can extend the battery life of everyday products such as smartphones, tablets, keyboards, mice and remote controls.

“Alta Devices has been setting efficiency records since 2010,” said Norris. “This new dual junction record at 30.8 per cent is a testament to our technology and our world-class team. It’s also an important step toward our target of 38 per cent efficient cells. We continue to redefine the boundaries of what is possible with solar power.”

Away from the US, BRIC companies have also made breakthroughs in solar cell efficiency over the last year. This includes Chinese solar firm Suntech Power, which in March 2012 announced its Pluto cell technology had achieved 20.3 per cent efficiency. At the time this was a world record in production cells using standard commercial-grade p-type silicon wafers.