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GE Shifts PV Strategy, Invests in First Solar

Thu, 2013-08-08 00:33
Commercial partnership centers on GE’s new choice in thin-film solar cell technology

General Electric has shifted its strategy in solar technology, discontinuing a venture to build thin-film photovoltaic (PV, or solar) panel manufacturing center in Aurora, Colo., and forming a new partnership with First Solar Inc. to adopt its thin-film technology. GE also took an equity interest in First Solar, and will create a multi-prong commercial partnership to promote First Solar’s PV technology.

The plant GE had planned in Colorado had been described as the world’s largest producing solar panels, covering several acres and with an annual capacity of 400 MW. A thin-film solar technology research center will be closed, too. GE explained the decision as a result of excess production capacity in the market for solar panels, as well as falling prices.

Instead, GE has exchanged its “intellectual property portfolio” for a small (less than 2%) stake in First Solar, a manufacturer of manufacturer of thin-film photovoltaic (PV) modules, and a supplier of PV power plants and support services.

First Solar is noted for its cadmium telluride (CdTe) semiconductor process for the panels, reportedly less expensive process than the alternative crystalline silicon technology.

In its announcement, GE predicted that combining the two companies’ technologies and using First Solar’s manufacturing capabilities would accelerate the development of CdTe solar module performance, and improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process.

The buyer also indicated its own GE Global Research would collaborate with First Solar R&D on future CdTe solar technology development.

In its standard fashion, GE will support First Solar’s production of CdTe modules by purchasing and branding them for its own 34 GW of renewable energy modules, installed worldwide.

First Solar will purchase inverters from GE Energy Management for its solar deployments worldwide. “By combining complementary technologies, the collaboration is expected to lead to an improvement in solar grid integration, more competitive cost structures, and a roadmap for combined electrical equipment,” according to GE’s statement.