GE: Big, New Player on the Thin Film Solar Block

Apr. 7.11 | About: General Electric (GE)

Victor Abate, GE's VP of Renewable Energy Business, announced the completed acquisition of Prime Star Solar Thursday morning along with some big news on the cadmium telluride front:

GE claims to have achieved the (independently verified) highest recorded efficiency for cadmium telluride at almost 13 percent for a full scale module. Abate claimed the best way to reduce solar cost was by improving efficiency and that each percentage point in efficiency lowers cost by 10 percent. Abate did not disclose per-watt costs.

Note that First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), the clear leader in thin film solar, is in gigawatt-scale production at 11.6 percent efficiency with a $0.75 per-watt cost and a guidance of 2 gigawatts of production in 2011. Abound Solar, another CdTe aspirant, is working on builing up capacity of 840 megawatts with help from a DOE loan guarantee.

GE said that it has closed more than 100 megawatts of orders including 60 megawatts with NextEra, an existing GE wind customer. The firm will be building a 400 megawatt factory in the U.S. with production starting in 2013. That would make it the largest solar plant in the U.S. today.

Abate said that when the 400 megawatt factory comes on-line in 2013 the efficiency will be above 13 percent. The efficiency level quoted is at the module level although the existing 30 megawatt line is not the "main event" according to Abate.

Abate also said, "We are an energy company and expect to supply full solutions." He suggested that if ten percent of GE's wind farms added hybrid solar - the GE factory would be sold out for six years.

Abate also spoke about GE's timing for solar and renewable investment being the right time for the market place, seeing thin film as the cost-successor to crystalline silicon. GE will invest an anticipated $600 million in solar. GE also just acquired power conversion company Converteam.

Abate said, “Our plan to open a U.S. solar manufacturing facility further demonstrates our confidence in this technology and is just the first phase in a global, multi-gigawatt roadmap."

GE has more than 90,000 global employees and 2010 revenues of $38 billion. The big boys may be waking up to the solar growth market.