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Semprius Sets Solar Panel Efficiency Record

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Smaller, cheaper and making more electricity – Semprius claims a breakthrough in solar panels

A new world record for solar panel efficiency has been set by Semprius, a solar panel manufacturer from North Carolina,USA.

The photovoltaic module efficiency reached 33.9 percent in the active area. That’s huge news in a business where every single percent counts.

In the middle of everything is the sun

Semprius prides itself on manufacturing the smallest solar cells in the world, which also happen to provide the highest efficiency. The secret is in a high concentration of photovoltaic (HCPV) modules. Unlike traditional solar panels, which use big wafer-based crystalline silicon cells or thin-film cells based on cadmium telluride, HCPVs contain thousands of micro-cells, each placed under a small lens. Inexpensive optics concentrate the power of 1,000 suns onto the tiny dots made from gallium arsenide, which only cover 0.1 percent of the module area.

Depending on the specific location and irradiation, the HCPV modules can deliver an energy output per square meter that is two times higher than common polycrystalline modules.

“This is a significant milestone for Semprius and the entire PV industry,” said Scott Burroughs, vice president of Technology at Semprius. “For the first time, we have been able to convert more than one-third of the sun’s energy into usable electricity. This demonstrates how concentrated PV can leverage rapidly increasing efficiencies to continue driving down the cost of solar-generated electricity.”

The core of Semprius’ technology is micro-transfer printing. This patented process enables the parallel transfer of many pre-formed circuit elements from a source semiconductor wafer to almost any other substrate. This enables the company to fabricate the world’s smallest solar cell – approximately the size of a pencil point.

HCPV offers the lowest solar cost of energy (pence per kWh) in sunny, dry climates. Which probably means it’s not coming to the UK. “This technology has the potential to become a game changer for the solar markets in regions with high irradiation,” said Martin Pfund, CEO of the Siemens Energy Photovoltaic Business Unit. He should know: after all, Siemens believed in the potential of this idea so much that it acquired a 16-percent stake in Semprius in June 2011.

Best of all, Joe Carr, chief executive officer of Semprius confirmed that the module that set the world record was not a prototype, but a part of the normal production distribution that will be commercially available later this year. Semprius are currently finishing construction of a pilot plant in Henderson, North Carolina. Commercial production at the plant will begin during the second half of 2012.