RSI announces the world’s most powerful cadmium telluride solar modules

July 11, 2013
Cadmium Telluride Solar Module

Cadmium telluride solar photovoltaic module (credit: RSI)

RSI has announced a new world record for cadmium telluride photovoltaic module size, achieving a 1.5 square meter module.

The availability of low-cost, large-area CdTe panels coupled with localized manufacturing partners hastens the widespread achievement of grid parity for utility scale solar, the company says.

Conventional cadmium telluride (CdTe) modules measure just 0.72 square meters, a limitation that stems from the use of high temperature CdTe deposition processes.

CdTe is used to make thin film solar cells, among the lowest-cost types of solar cell. CdTe was pioneered by BP and is now led by First Solar. The main competing technology is crystalline silicon (c-Si).

In a play to outdo First Solar, RSI has now developed a proprietary tool and low-temperature process, known as Rapid Efficient Electroplating on Large-areas (REEL), that both speeds the plating step and eliminates constraints on CdTe panel area

“RSI’s breakthrough is that we use electroplating rather than vacuum deposition to create the CdTe layer,” Paul Fox, RSI Vice President of Corporate Development, explained to KurzweilAI.

Thin-film solar cell (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“Because the processing temperature is low, it is gentle to the glass and we can use large glass sheets that are 2–3 times the size of First Solar’s.”

Achieving ‘grid parity’

The cost of solar panels has  fallen a tremendous amount in recent years as PV technology follows the learning curve. This fall in prices has led to an explosion in PV installations, although most are still subsidized in some way.

Right now, manufacturing costs of PV panels are around 60–70 cents per  Watt. Unfortunately, current PV technologies are approaching a plateau at around 40–50 cents per Watt, said Fox “We need to drive down the cost of the panels (measured in $ per Watt) to achieve widespread grid parity. (“Grid parity” is when the price of renewable electricity equals the price of fossil fuel based electricity.)

The availability of low-cost, large-area CdTe panels developed by RSI coupled with a business model that leverages regional manufacturing partners promises to break through this plateau and enable costs lower than 40 cents per Watt by 2014, said Fox. “In the future those costs may fall by half again. Somewhere along that ride we will hit the tipping point.”

“When we founded the company we recognized that in thin-film, you needed larger panel sizes with higher power outputs, in addition to efficiency, to truly differentiate against silicon,” said said RSI Co-founder and President Kurt Weiner. “We’ve achieved both at RSI.”

RSI has been developing low cost electroplating processes since 2009.  RSI is now offering a “virtual turnkey” manufacturing capability to a single licensee in each major region of the world.