General Electric (GE) Announces Record Thin Film Solar Efficiency, Plans To Build Largest US Solar Factory

As we’ve been covering here for some time, General Electric (GE) has been reinventing itself as a green energy behemoth, beginning with a focus on wind energy, then the smart grid and more recently led lighting and solar.  They’ve even developed an electric car charging station called the WattStation.

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This morning they are announcing another big step along the path of its rapid push into the thin film solar market, taking direct aim at First Solar (FSLR).  The push has been fueled by key acquisitions particularly of PrimeStar of which it acquired a minority stake  in 2007, has had a majority stake since 2008, and today announced it has completed a full acquisition of the company.  PrimeStar was developing the cadmium thin film solar panels which is the same technology First Solar is using.  Earlier last year I mentioned First Solar had reason to be concerned and that is never more apparent than this morning.

“Over the last decade, through technology investment, GE has become one of the world’s major wind turbine manufacturers, and our investment in high-tech solar products will help us continue to grow our position in the renewable energy industry,” said Victor Abate, vice president of GE’s renewable energy business. “We are addressing the biggest barrier for the mainstream adoption of solar technology—cost—and the NREL certification proves that we are on track to deliver the most affordable solutions for our customers.”

GE is saying that its full sized thin film solar panel developed with PrimeStar has been independently certified to be the world’s most efficient thin film solar panel at 12.8 percent aperture area efficiency.  First Solar reported during its latest earnings report that it had reached 11.6% and that it expects to hit 12% within a few months.  A 1% increase in efficiency results in a 10% reduction in energy cost, so the current spread isn’t insignificant. 

GE also announced that it will invest $600 million to build the largest solar panel production facility in the US.  At full capacity the 400MW facility will produce enough panels each year to power 80,000 homes.  The location of the plant is expected to be announced soon and it’s great to see they will keep manufacturing in the US.

“Our plan to open a U.S. solar manufacturing facility further demonstrates our confidence in this technology and is just the first phase in a global, multi-gigawatt roadmap. We’re not only excited by the efficiency milestone, but also by the speed at which our team was able to achieve it and the innovation runway for future improvements in this technology.”

The good news for GE’s solar business doesn’t end there.  They are also announcing more than 100MW in new orders for its thin film products which include the panels and inverters.


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