GE reenters solar market in a big way

GE to build large thin-film manufacturing plant in U.S.General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) last year said it would get out of the crystalline silicon solar market in favor of the thin-film photovoltaic market. It made good on the promise.

This week, the company announced that it will build a 400-megawatt thin-film photovoltaic production facility in the U.S. to produce its 12.8 percent efficient thin-film photovoltaics.

And, oh yeah, for good measure it also announced that it has more than 100 megawatts of orders to fill and that it bought the solar firms Converteam and PrimeStar Solar, Inc.

GE has been a major player in the renewables and clean technology industries, with its wind turbine technologies, its former crystalline silicon photovoltaics and its ecomagination challenge. While it has continued to offer copper indium gallium selenium photovoltaics through Showa Shell subsidiary Solar Frontier this marks a sweeping entrance into the cadmium telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic market.

“We believe that CdTe thin film offers the best opportunity for improvements to both efficiency and cost,” said GE spokesperson Emily Caruso.

It’s likely that GE will continue to grow its solar business. It anticipates a 75-gigawatt demand for solar over the next five years.

“GE’s goal is to provide the most economic solar solution for our customers through continual advancements in our technology,” said Caruso.

The company said its CdTe modules have reached 12.8 percent efficiency, a record for the technology. It will produce the modules at a new facility in the U.S.

The new U.S. production facility will be among the largest photovoltaic production facilities in the U.S., if not the largest. The company has not yet announced the location of the facility.

“GE is looking at several locations in the U.S. at this time. The location of the plant will be decided in the next 90 to 100 days,” Caruso said. The company plans to have the facility operational by 2013, she said.

In addition, the company completed its acquisition of Arvada, Colo.,-based PrimeStar Solar. It has held a majority position in the company since 2008.

PrimeStar is where GE produced the record-setting CdTe module and where its thin-film solar panels are currently manufactured. That location has a 30-megawatt production capacity, according to Caruso.

GE has to ramp up production quickly. It also announced that is has signed agreements to provide more than 100 megawatts of its solar products, including panels, inverters and total solar power plants to companies. It will provide NextEra Energy with 60 megawatts of photovoltaics and 20 megawatts of photovoltaics and inverters to Invenergy.

Image courtesy of GE.