The challenge of building a more efficient solar panel is a never-ending battle for solar manufacturers. But tweaks to designs and gradual improvements in efficiency are an important part of making solar power more economically viable.

Those steps forward will be on display this week at the Intersolar Exhibition in Munich, Germany. Here are a few new recently announced products that will highlight the show.

  • Suntech Power (NYSE: STP) is set to introduce its new high-efficiency BlackPearl module. It boasts 15.2% conversion efficiency, better than the 13% to 14% for standard panels and beating Suntech's own 14.4% multicrystalline module.
  • Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL) will be introducing its new Comax cells this week. Their square design provides about 4% more surface area than a standard cell.
  • JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO) is introducing new solar modules and solar cells that use the company's SECIUM and Maple technologies. SECIUM cells have a conversion efficiency of up to 19.2%, and Maple cells are up to 18.2% efficient. Module efficiency for the SECIUM panels are as high as 16.8% and as high as 16.2% for Maple.

These are important steps for Chinese manufacturers to make. Not only will these moves help differentiate themselves from lesser Chinese manufacturers, but they're also up against U.S. competitors that have shown a history of making efficiency improvements. SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA) is still the highest-cost producer, but with 19.5% efficient modules, it can survive with lower balance-of-system costs. On the other end of the spectrum, First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR), the low-cost leader, is slowly bringing efficiency up.

The Intersolar Exhibition runs from Wednesday through Saturday. We'll keep an eye on the show, and when a company announces something noteworthy, you can keep track of our analysis with our free My Watchlist service.

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