GE selects Colorado for largest solar module plant in US

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On the eve of largest solar power event in the US, GE has announced the location of where it will build what it claims to be the largest solar module plant in the US, having initially announced plans in April 2011. GE said it had selected a site in an existing building in Aurora, just east of Denver, Colorado, which is near to the company's existing solar centre of excellence. It said that the new CdTe thin-film plant is expected to start ramping in 2012 with commercial availability in 2013.

In April, GE noted that its total investment in a new manufacturing facility could take its commitment to the sector to over US$600 million. The proposed plant would have a capacity of 400MW.

However, GE’s bragging rights may be overdone. Direct technology rival and market leader, First Solar is building a new plant in Mesa, Arizona that is capable of being equipped with 10 thin-film production lines with total capacity approaching 700MW.

Initially, First Solar is installing four lines that would provide at least 250MW of annual capacity. First Solar also expected to employ around 600 workers when ramped. GE expects to employ around 355.

Though scant on details and overbearing on backslapping, GE said in a statement that the Colorado plant would fabricate a significantly revised module design, highlighting the work undertaken to improve the cost competitive aspects of the NREL-based technology that was transitioned originally to PrimeStar, which GE subsequently acquired.

GE noted that the modules would be more efficient, lighter weight and larger than conventional thin-film panels. Though details were not disclosed, GE had said in April that NREL had verified that CdTe thin-film modules from PrimeStar’s 30MW manufacturing line in Arvada, Colorado, had achieved 12.8% aperture-area efficiency, but no real-world total-area figures were provided.

Clearly, GE has had to work on ensuring that its high-volume CdTe thin-film modules could give First Solar’s a run for their money and the larger-sized panels (no actual details) could be the significant edge over the current market leader. Backed up by lighter weight, GE touted that the combination lowered BOS costs.

“We are building out our global solar business now because of our technology innovation and economics. We remain on track to deliver the most affordable solutions for our customers as we continuously improve this technology,” noted Victor Abate, vice president of GE’s Renewable Energy business.

GE and First Solar would seem to be guiding production ramps roughly at the same time, late next year, which could prove to be an interesting apples-to-apples ramp rate showdown, in more ways than one.

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