One of the important ways to make solar energy cheaper is to improve the amount of sunlight that solar cells can convert into electricity. So it’s a big deal to see that First Solar (s FSLR) announced on Tuesday that it’s managed to create a record 18.7 percent solar cell, up from the 17.3 percent cell it touted in July 2011.

That 18.7 percent sets a new world record for cells made from the material cadmium-telluride. It represents the best the company could achieve, but to make cells with that efficiency in mass production will likely take a few years.

Boosting the efficiency helps to reduce production costs of solar cells. Efficiency is correlated with how much power a panel of a given size can produce – more power means higher efficiencies. There is a fixed cost and amount of time for making each panel. If the company produces each…

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