General Electric came out with several solar power related announcements this week. They’ve acquired PrimeStar Solar (a company they’ve been working with to develop cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film solar cells), achieved an NREL confirmed record 12.8% efficiency on its CdTe panels, and announced that they will be building a $600 million manufacturing plant in the United States for its CdTe panels. The new plant will have a yearly capacity of 400 MW of thin film solar panels and is expected to be built by 2013.
GE has been pushing thin film cells in its strategy to ramp up its solar business. What GE wants to do is dramatically increase the size of its solar business, along the lines of the growth its achieved in wind power (which has grown from a couple of hundred million dollars in 2002 to about $6 billion today). While thin film isn’t as efficient as silicon based solar photovoltaic cells, the costs of manufacturing are much cheaper – First Solar holds the lead in that area at $0.75/watt. GE plans on beating First Solar to become the leader at cost per watt – they say they will push the efficiency of its CdTe cells much higher than the current 12.8%, and they think they can cut manufacturing costs by 50% over the next several years, according to Victor Abate, VP for GE’s renewable energy business.