NREL Achieves World Record Performance For Thin Film Solar Cell Technology

Golden, Colo., May 10, 1996 -- Scientists at the U. S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have achieved a world record in the performance of an advanced solar cell technology designed to have a major impact on the cost of electricity from the sun.

NREL established a new world record "sunlight-to-electricity" efficiency of 17.7 percent with a compound semiconductor called copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS). CIGS is a thin-film photovoltaic technology being investigated as a "next generation" replacement for existing photovoltaics, according to NREL researchers. The new record is about 60 percent higher than the equivalent efficiency of commercial thin-film photovoltaics that are made of amorphous silicon. Efficiency is a measure of the amount of sunlight a solar device converts to electricity.

"The CIGS-based research and development represents NREL's scientific leadership in developing advanced photovoltaic technologies," said Jim Rannels, acting director of U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Photovoltaics and Wind Technologies. "This DOE-sponsored effort is an excellent example of our long-standing commitment to photovoltaic research and development through the DOE/NREL Thin Film PV Partnership Program."

Rannels said that while the recent achievement is significant, it will take several more years for the CIGS technology to become commercially available. He said the photovoltaics industry is making strong progress toward large-volume production. Currently, photovoltaics is a $1 billion dollar per year business worldwide with more than 20 percent annual growth.

Development of CIGS will make solar an option for countries like the U.S. where photovoltaics must compete with inexpensive utility electricity. Most existing photovoltaics are used in developing countries where access to electricity is minimal.