GE To Build Largest Thin Film Solar Factory in US

GE (NYSE:GE) today announced plans to build the largest thin-film solar manufacturing facility in the US. 

The company says it is considering multiple locations for the factory, which will have a capacity of 400 megawatts (MW) per year. The facility will be larger than any U.S. solar panel manufacturing plant in operation today and will produce 400 solar jobs. GE said the location will be announced soon.

The company also says it has achieved the highest efficiency ever for a full-size cadmium telluride thin film solar panel.  module.

The record-setting panel was produced on the PrimeStar 30 MW manufacturing line in Arvada, Colo. It was measured by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) at a 12.8% aperture area efficiency. This panel surpasses all previously published records for CdTe thin film.

GE says a 1% increase in efficiency is equal to an approximate 10% decrease in total system cost.

Competitors include First Solar (FSLR), the dominant player in thin film solar, which has gigawatt-scale production at 11.6% efficiency costing only $0.75 per watt – they’re expanding capacity to 2 GW this year. Abound Solar, a fast-rising newcomer, is building up to 840 MW of capacity thanks to a  DOE loan guarantee.

GE intends to manufacture the record-setting solar panels at its new factory, which will be part of an expected $600-million-plus investment in solar technology and commercialization. 

GE says the investment will be complemented by the recently announced acquisition of power conversion company Converteam.

In addition, GE has acquired PrimeStar Solar, Inc., a thin film solar technology company in which GE held a majority equity stake since 2008. Photovoltaic solar is the next step in growing GE’s renewable energy portfolio, the company says.

"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.

Global demand for photovoltaics is expected to grow by 75 GW over the next five years, with utility-scale solar plants making up a significant part of that growth.

"Milestones like these are pivotal as the United States looks to drive widespread adoption of solar technologies," said Ryne Raffaelle, director of the National Center for Photovoltaics at NREL. "It’s great to see technology that started at NREL ready to move into the market." NREL transitioned the technology to PrimeStar through a cooperative research and development agreement signed in 2007.

GE plans to build an advanced technology thin film solar panel factory in the US that, at capacity, will produce enough panels a year to power 80,000 homes annually.

GE also announced it has orders for over 100 MW of commercial solar thin film products, including panels, inverters and total solar power plants. GE’s largest solar agreement to date is with NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE) for 60 MW of thin film solar panels. NextEra also produces 4.5 GW of renewable energy with GE’s wind turbines.

GE also signed a 20 MW solar agreement with Invenergy for the supply of thin film solar panels and inverters. Invenergy, a Chicago-based clean energy generation company, will install the solar products at a project site in Illinois. Invenergy recently executed a power purchase agreement for the project, which upon completion will be one of the largest solar installations in the state.

Great news, but will GE pay the US any taxes this year?

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