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GE picks Colorado for giant CdTe solar factory

14 Oct 2011

The industrial behemoth is about to start building the largest panel factory in the US, and expects to begin commercial shipments in 2013.

General Electric (GE) has ended speculation about the location of its planned 400 MW CdTe solar panel fab, announcing that it has selected a site in Aurora, Colorado, for the new factory.

Close to Denver, as well as GE’s existing solar center of excellence and thin-film solar pilot line, the factory is expected to create 355 jobs when completed, by which time it will represent the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the US.

GE says it will begin installing production equipment in January 2012, with the first panels scheduled to come off the line later the same year, ahead of commercial shipments in 2013.

The thin-film CdTe technology at the heart of the new GE fab was initially developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) – also in Colorado – before being transferred to start-up firm PrimeStar Solar in 2007. A year later, GE acquired a majority stake in PrimeStar, before completing a full acquisition earlier this year and announcing a total $600 million investment to ramp the technology to volume production.

GE will be competing with First Solar, the long-time market leader in thin-film CdTe panel production with global annual manufacturing capacity already in excess of 2 GW. First Solar is also building a new US facility, in the form of a 250 MW fab in Arizona, part of an expansion plan that will see its capacity rise to around 2.9 GW next year.

Panel efficiency key
GE’s new site is expected to have a 400 MW capacity, with the company saying that its panels will be more efficient, lighter and larger than those produced by other thin-film manufacturers. In April, NREL certified that a PrimeStar/GE panel had shown a record aperture efficiency of 12.8%, and Victor Abate, VP of GE’s Renewable Energy business, says that the high-efficiency panels are on track for rapid commercialization:

“Working with our Colorado-based solar team, we were able to achieve record efficiencies in our solar panels in record time,” he said. “The Colorado location will allow us to deliver our technology roadmap faster and commercialize industry-leading panel efficiencies sooner.”

While more efficient photovoltaic conversion directly reduces the cost of solar electricity, lighter panels will make for easier installation, particularly in the commercial rooftop sector. Larger-sized panels also help to lower total system cost by reducing the amount of racking and electrical components required to hook PV systems up to the grid.

When running at full capacity, the new GE factory is expected to produce enough panels per year to power 80,000 homes, says the company.

• GE said it will also add 100 jobs in New York state, at its renewable energy headquarters in Schenectady and global research center in Niskayuna – the announcement coming shortly after semiconductor industry leaders revealed a multi-billion dollar investment in technology development there.

Abate said. “The Cuomo administration has demonstrated a change in business culture in New York state. New York is well positioned to continue to be part of GE’s solar business growth.”

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