On October 2, SolarCity announced that it has developed the world’s most efficient solar panels. The new panels convert more than 22% of sunlight into electricity. SolarCity will begin producing the first of the new panels in small quantities this month at its 100 MW pilot facility. Later, production will shift to the company’s new 1 GW facility in Buffalo, New York. It expects to build up to 10,000 solar panels every day at that facility when it reaches full capacity.
SolarCity’s panel was found to have 22.04% module level efficiency by Renewable Energy Test Center, a third party certification testing provider for photovoltaic and renewable energy products. SolarCity’s new panel — created via a proprietary process that significantly reduces the manufacturing cost relative to other high-efficiency technologies — is the same size as standard-efficiency solar panels but produces 30-40% more power. SolarCity’s panel also performs better than other modules in high temperatures, which allows it to produce even more energy on an annual basis than other solar panels of comparable size.
The company expects to install the new, record-setting solar panel on rooftops and carports for homes, businesses, schools, and other organizations, but it will also be excellent for utility-scale solar fields and other large-scale, ground-level installations.
SolarCity has not released many details that led to the more efficient panels, but it is believed that technological and manufacturing details pioneered by Silevo contributed to the breakthrough. SolarCity purchased Silevo last year for $200,000,000. The video below describes the Silevo technology.
As pointed out in MIT Technology Review recently, the solar panel business is facing huge uncertainty in the near future. By the time SolarCity’s new factory is fully operational in 2017, the federal tax credit for renewable energy systems may be severely reduced or eliminated all together. If that happens, early pioneers in rooftop solar like SolarCity could be looking at enormous losses.
The outcome of the next US elections could have a huge effect on what government incentives for renewable energy will be in effect on January 1, 2017. Most of the current Republican candidates for president show a strong bias in favor of conventional fossil fuel companies. In this election, voters will have to consider the environmental credentials of all the candidates before exiting the polling booth.