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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

First Solar

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

First Solar is a leader in the development and manufacture of high quality thin film solar modules. First Solar has invested heavily in developing advanced, thin film semiconductor deposition and high volume manufacturing processes essential to achieve the low cost, high product quality and module efficiency required to make solar energy economically viable across a broad range of applications.

Today, First Solar is producing PV module products currently used by electric utilities and commercial, distributed generation power plant projects. First Solar is committed to making solar generated electricity an important piece of the 21st century electricity infrastructure.

First Solar has developed a solar module product platform that is manufactured using a unique and proprietary High Rate Vapor Transport Deposition (HRVTD) process. The HRVTD process optimizes the cost and production throughput of thin film PV modules. The process deposits semiconductor material while the glass remains in motion, completing deposition of stable, non-soluble compound semiconductor materials. The process produces no emissions of any kind while producing solar modules that can create clean energy for 20 years or more. The ability of the process to deposit thin films of semiconductor materials quickly, and to do so uniformly while achieving high material utilization rates, is critical to producing high quality, affordable solar modules in high volumes.

First Solar uses a stable compound semiconductor material, Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), as an absorption layer. The properties of CdTe are optimal for absorbing sunlight and converting it to usefull electricity in a very efficient manner. For a given module conversion efficiency, relatively small amounts of semiconductor material are required compared to silicon modules. The First Solar process is theoretically capable of producing module efficiencies as high as or higher than any other single junction module type, including crystalline silicon. Altogether, First Solar owns 28 patents issued and pending relating to thin film PV module manufacturing and related processes.

As an integral part of its long-term commitment to quality and technology leadership, First Solar is deploying and monitoring over 5,000 solar modules in a number of strategically selected test sites that represent a variety of applications and environmental conditions. A wide range of data is acquired from the test sites to support ongoing quality assurance and accelerated life test correlation.