Sharp's solar cell is based on triple-junction compound technology, similar to cells that were used in NASA's Mars rovers. Compound solar cells integrate photo-absorption layers that consist of at least two or more elements. Typically, such solar cells are based on rather expensive materials such as indium and gallium and have been used primarily in limited application areas such as satellites.
Sharp said that it intends to transfer the technology not just to aerospace products, but also to much more affordable solar cell products. 36.9 percent conversion efficiency is impressive, but we are not quite sure if it is, in fact, the world record Sharp has "confirmed". For example, U.S.-based Spire Semiconductor announced in October 2010 a triple-junction cell that had a claimed 42.3 percent efficiency.
The mass market photovoltaics industry usually trails the best-performing solar cells by about two to three years.