General Electric announced this week that they’re going to be focusing on thin film solar cells for their future solar power product lines. In doing so, GE will be taking on industry leader First Solar, which is the leading producer of low cost cadmium telluride (cad tel) thin film solar cells. First Solar also has the most efficient manufacturing process in the industry – they were the first company to make solar modules for under $1 per watt.
While GE currently makes traditional silicon based photovoltaic solar cells, they feel that this move into thin film solar makes sense to them. A couple of years ago, GE invested in PrimeStar – a startup focusing on cad tel solar cells, and became the majority shareholder in the company in 2008. GE will be further partnering with PrimeStar to make these new cells. Danielle Merfeld, solar technology platform leader at GE’s Niskayuna, NY research facility, said, ““We think cad tel fundamentally has better cost structure than other thin-film technologies. The combination of efficiency that we think we can get to, the yield of the manufacturing line, the cost of manufacturing, and the cost of raw materials–the combination gives us the best outcome for making electricity.” Merfeld also said that GE believes that it can hit the market with a product that is more efficient than the 11% efficient cells that First Solar makes, and that they expect to go into commercial production in 2011, targeting utilities and large scale solar parks.
First Solar won’t give up so easy. They’ve been pushing hard to make inroads with the utility companies and have signed a number of deals to build large scale solar parking in the US, the Middle East, and other places.