Last month we reported on how General Electric quietly stole the cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cell effficiency crown from First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) -- with a solar cell clocking in at 18.3 percent.

When I asked First Solar CTO Raffi Garabedian for a comment at the time, he was respectful, but said that it didn't seem right for First Solar not to have the record.

It took a month.

First Solar just announced the new CdTe solar cell record with an NREL-confirmed 18.7 percent efficiency on a cell built at First Solar's Perrysburg, Ohio factory. First Solar also holds the CdTe module record at an NREL-measured 14.4 percent.
First Solar's average production module efficiency was 12.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, while its "lead line" was producing modules with 13.1 percent efficiency during the fourth quarter.  

General Electric's earlier record was set using the PrimeStar Solar technology acquired by GE in the April 2011 acquisition of the Colorado firm. PrimeStar/GE uses (as did Abound) a close space sublimation (CSS) process for CdTe manufacturing, while First Solar uses a vapor transport deposition (VTD) process. General Electric had announced plans to go into production in Colorado with 13 percent panels, and then backed off those plans in July 2012.  A spokesperson for the firm told GTM in an earlier interview that GE remains firmly committed to solar panel production and the plan is to revamp GE's process to reach 15-percent-efficiency panels.  

First Solar's CTO Raffi Garabedian told GTM, "It validates our belief that CdTe research-cell efficiency is far from saturated and will ultimately be on-par with the other high performance thin-film compound semiconductors like CIGS. CdTe already provides the best combination of manufacturability and performance, making it the most cost-effective technology for utility-grade PV. Further efficiency improvements at the manufacturing scale will solidify this position." 

First Solar is working with Intermolecular as part of its effort to improve panel performance.

Other firms looking to innovate in CdTe include Reel Solar, Bloo Solar, and Calyxo.

Chart from NREL. Click to enlarge.