Harvesting the sunChinese solar manufacturer JA Solar has just announced that its multi-crystalline silicon cells have reached an efficiency of 18.3%. This has been independently certified by the Yangzhou Opto-Electrical Products Testing Institute, and the company claims that it "eclipses that of all previously certified industrial size (156x156 mm^2) multi-Si solar cells."
After doing some research, it looks like multi-crystalline Si cells made by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE have reached a higher efficiency of 20.4% (you can see on this chart that shows all solar efficiency records for different types of PV).
But if you look here at the chart on page 85, their record breaking cell was only 1 square centimeter. JA Solar's cell, while less efficient, is much bigger (15.6 square centimeters), and I can only assume that it's what makes it record-breaking (after all, these new types of cell eventually need to become commercially produced to really make a difference, and that means making larger, industrial-size modules).
There's always a lag between breaking a record or discovering a breakthrough way to do things in the lab and when things become available widely, but that's normal, and the sooner we make these lab discoveries, the sooner they'll be mass-produced to change the world.
What I'm most looking forward to is graphene-based solar. It's still early days, but it could theoretically reach 60% conversion efficiency. And since graphene is just carbon, with some luck we'll someday be able to produce a lot of it cheaply and cleanly. That would truly be revolutionary! But even without something like that, current solar technology is getting good enough to replace dirty sources of power (see this price/performance graph).
Via JA Solar