First Solar’s (FSLR) thin-film CdTe (cadmium telluride) cells don’t beat their silicon counterparts in sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiency. They beat them with lower manufacturing costs. FSLR’s manufacturing costs per watt are approximately $1.12. Many silicon competitors, such as Solarfun (SOLF) and JA Solar (JASO), have costs per watt of $2.00 or more.
However, this balance between conversion efficiency (the rate at which the cells convert sunlight into electricity) and manufacturing cost is vital, so it’s always great news to hear that FSLR’s efficiency goals are on target (Electronics Weekly):
“We are currently on track to achieve our 2012 goal of 12% conversion efficiencies. This represents an increase of approximately 0.5% per year,” spokesman David Erhart told Electronics Weekly. “In Q1 2008 our average efficiency was 10.6%.”
This chart below (via Wikinvest) illustrates exactly why First Solar must continue to make strides in efficiency: