Colorado to be Home to GE Thin-Film Solar Plant, Largest in the US

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Photo courtesy of NREL, Golden, Co.

It’s abundantly clear that General Electric (GE) sees renewable energy and clean technology as a prime strategic business opportunity in the years ahead. From building the world’s largest wind turbines right on through to manufacturing solar-powered carports and electric vehicle charging stations, the multinational industrial engineering and financial services giant has its fingers in just about every renewable energy and clean tech pie you can think of.

Now, GE is expanding its thin-film solar panel manufacturing business, and in a big way. In April, GE announced its intention to build the US’ largest thin-film solar photovoltaic (PV) panel manufacturing plant, this despite the oversupply and precipitous, 40% price drop that has occurred over the past two years.

Folks out in Denver, Colorado applauded an announcement Thursday night from Gov. John Hickenlooper that GE had indeed chosen Colorado, more specifically the Denver suburb of Aurora, as the site for the nation’s largest thin-film solar manufacturing plant, according to a Denver Business Journal report.

Hotly Contested Bidding

Colorado won the bidding war because “it had a technology head-start and a facility that could quickly be turned into a factory,” Victor Abate, head of the renewable energy business for GE, was quoted as saying in a Denver Post report.

Bidding to be home to GE’s thin-film solar plant has been hotly contested by as many as ten states since GE announced its intentions. Narrowed down to two, Colorado and New York state officials have been working overtime to win the competition.

GE anticipates investing as much as $600 million in building the plant, which is expected to employ 400 workers involved in manufacturing as much as 400-megawatts (MW) worth of thin-film solar panels, enough to power 80,000 homes a year.

PrimeStar Solar Acquisition Paved the Way

That Colorado is home to PrimeStar Solar probably helped that state’s bid. GE’s April acquisition of PrimeStar Solar set the stage for GE’s move into thin-film solar manufacturing.

GE acquired PrimeStar Solar in April prior to announcing its plans to build a thin-film solar PV panel plant. Based in Arvada, Color., another Denver suburb, PrimeStar Solar is a leading developer and manufacturer of thin-film cadmium-telluride (Cd-Te) solar PV cells and panels. These are essentially the same type of thin-film solar cells manufactured by Arizona-based thin-film market leader First Solar.

Most of the raw materials, the Cd and Te, used to manufacture these solar PV cells and panels comes from China.

Record-Setting Cd-Te Solar Panel Efficiency

The US Dept. of Energy’s Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), also back in April, certified that a Prime Star Cd-Te thin-film solar panel manufactured at PrimeStar’s 30MW manufacturing facility in Arvada reached a record-setting 12.8% aperture efficiency. GE noted that a 1% increase in efficiency translates into approximately a 10% reduction in system cost.

GE and PrimeStar engineers have been working to develop higher-efficiency Cd-Te thin film solar PV cells and panels since GE acquired a majority equity stake in the company in 2008.

“After having completed an exhaustive survey of the PV landscape, we determined that thin films were the optimum path for GE,” Danielle Merfeld, GE’s solar R&D leader, stated in a March, 2010 press release.

“Specifically, the CdTe technology from PrimeStar has great potential. Bringing together world-class materials expertise, unique materials and systems modeling and design capabilities and state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor solar testing facilities, GE researchers are innovating across our four global research centers—literally around the clock—to deliver a breakthrough product to market.”

The following links offer more info on thin-film solar and solar PV investments:

  1. US Ex-Im Bank approves $86 million loan for Indian solar PV project
  2. Local Leaders Join First Solar in Dedicating 250 MW Thin-Film PV Factory in Mesa, Az.
  3. First Solar Sets Thin Film Cd-Te Solar Cell Efficiency World Record

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