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Suntech/UNSW collaboration produces record breaking solar cell

Collaborative research between Suntech, China’s solar panel manufacturing giant, and the University of New South Wales has led to a world record 20.3 per cent efficiency through further refinements to the company’s Pluto cell technology.

The 20.3 per cent record for a production cell was confirmed by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore and marks a high point in a series of leaps forward in solar efficiency optimisation for the Suntech Pluto cell, which held a previous record of 19.6 per cent.

Using improved manufacturing techniques incorporating high-efficiency wafer assembly into standard cell production - techniques recently praised in MIT’s Technology Review – Suntech estimates it could see energy conversion efficiencies of 21 per cent in as little as six months.

Suntech Chief Technology Officer and Director of the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) at the University of New South Wales says the record marks another crucial step on the path to solar power reaching parity with fossil fuels.

“Technology innovation is imbued in Suntech’s DNA, and as a global solar technology leader, our more than 400 R&D professionals around the world, including Australia, are committed to continually improving how we harness solar energy.”

By utilising characteristics of PERL solar cells, highly efficient solar technology also developed at UNSW, Suntech/UNSW team were able to boost Pluto cell energy output.

PERL (passivated emitter with rear locally diffused) technology improves the design of a conventional Pluto cell by reducing the metal/silicon interface area inside the cell, allowing for a better flow of electrons. In addition, Suntech has introduced changes that minimize the use of high temperatures that make it possible to apply the high efficiency processes to the most commonly used commercial wafers.

In 2010 Suntech founder and CEO, Dr. Zhengrong Shi - a graduate of UNSW - donated 1,906 Suntech Pluto solar panels as part of a 384kW solar power system to the Sydney Theatre Company, making it one of the largest rooftop arrays in Australia.

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