California-based solar cell manufacturer, solar module manufacturer, and solar power developer SunPower said recently that it had made its one billionth solar cell. The company started making them 11 years ago. SunPower solar cells are high efficiency compared to other commercially available cells, currently achieving about 24.2% efficiency. When the company started making them in 2003, the efficiency was 20%.

Regarding the news, CEO Tom Werner said: “SunPower is proud of the role we’ve played to help the global adoption of solar, which, over the past 11 years has experienced a 45 percent annual growth rate resulting in nearly 155 gigawatts of installed power capacity today. This is enough to offset the electricity needs of over 25 million homes.”

SunPower is adding more fabrication capacity. A new 350 MW facility is expected to start producing in early 2015. This one will be in the Philippines, but might not reach full production capacity until the year after 2015. However, a 1.8 GW factory is being planned for construction in 2017.

If SunPower’s average annual solar cell production was about 90,000 solar cells, it appears that SunPower will go well beyond this output. So the next billion solar cells they produce will probably occur in just a handful of years.

Werner remarked: “The SunPower team has worked continually to improve our manufacturing and cost reduction processes in concert with advancements in research and development, always raising our own innovation bar. Solar is now more affordable, with demand for the residential, commercial and utility scale power plant markets at historic highs.”

SunPower’s solar cells are known for efficiency and reliability. It will be fascinating to see what happens in the solar industry over the next two years. If prices continue dropping, it appears that both consumer and commercial demand will rise.

Tesla’s gigafactory may become operational by 2017, and there could be a SunPower gigafactory coming online not long afterwards. How long will it take for SunPower to get its next billion solar cells?

Sunpower’s headquarters are in San Jose but the company also has offices in other North American locations, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe. Founded in 1985, it has about 5,200 employees.