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10/14/2011 05:15 PM     print story email story  

GE Builds Largest Solar Manufacturing Plant in US

SustainableBusiness.com News

General Electric announced it is building the largest solar manufacturing plant in the US ... in Aurora, Colorado. 

It's interesting that GE's announcement comes at a time when smaller companies are filing for bankruptcy. Perhaps only the largest companies can compete with the crushing competition from China. What does that say for the future of solar?

It's part of a $600 million investment GE is making in the solar industry. Half of that will go toward the new factory, which will double the size of an existing warehouse near Denver, bringing it to 400,000 square feet.

GE expects the plant to start production in 2012, employing 355 people. At capacity, the 400 MW factory will make enough solar panels to power 80,000 homes a year. 

The new factory will produce thin-film solar panels, competing directly with industry leader First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR).

GE has been running a pilot plant in Colorado, validating and testing its advanced thin-film processes with recent acquisition Primestar.

GE says it's achieved 14% conversion efficiency - the highest to date for a full-size cadmium telluride thin film solar panel. First Solar, which has long been the leader in thin film efficiency, averages 11.7%.

The solar panels produced in the new factory will also be more efficient, lighter weight and larger than other thin film panels, GE says. 

Higher efficiency reduces the final cost to customers, lighter panels facilitate easier installation, and larger panels lower the total system cost by reducing the amount of racking and electrical components required. 

GE has dramatically grown its wind business through technology and scale since entering the space in 2002 and anticipates a similar trajectory for solar given recent technology breakthroughs. GE has more than 27 gigawatts of wind and solar resources installed around the world.

In addition to thin film solar, GE offers power electronics and pre-designed utility-scale solar power plants for use in multi-megawatt applications. Power electronics are critical to bringing renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, into the mainstream, delivering economies of scale and providing stable connection to the grid. GE recently acquired Converteam to add its energy conversion technologies to GE's solar offerings, further broadening GE's portfolio. 

When GE announced its plans to build the factory, it set off a bidding war among 10 states. Colorado won the competition because it had a clean technology head-start and a facility that could quickly be turned into a factory, saysVictor Abate, head of GE Renewable Energy.



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