It’s tough out there in the solar manufacturing space. But don’t count American companies out yet.
General Electric announced this week it will open a new 400-MW solar manufacturing facility for producing cadmium-telluride thin film panels in Colorado — creating 355 local jobs in the process.
The announcement comes after a round of high-profile closures at solar manufacturing facilities in the U.S. due to extremely competitive pricing in the global PV market (see “Are the Chinese Using Predatory Pricing to Knock America Out of Solar Manufacturing?“). In 2009, GE closed a manufacturing plant in Delaware that produced conventional crystalline-based solar modules. Today, it has restructured its solar investments and focused on thin film technologies.
At scale, thin film solar costs much less to produce. Industry leader First Solar is able to manufacture cadmium-telluride solar modules at $0.75 per watt, which is $.025 lower than the best conventional PV. But efficiencies are much lower — First Solar modules are about 11.7 percent efficient, compared with a 15.7% efficient module for polycrystalline solar.
GE says its cadmium-telluride thin film modules are 13 percent efficient, making them higher than First Solar.
Here’s more from the GE annoucement:
GE will locate the factory in an existing building in Aurora, just east of Denver. This location, which also is in proximity to GE’s existing solar center of excellence, enables an accelerated start-up schedule with production equipment installation beginning in January 2012. At capacity, the new factory will produce enough panels per year to power 80,000 homes and will be larger than 11 football fields. When complete, the new solar factory will highlight a $600 million investment in GE’s solar business.
In support of its expected growth in the solar space, GE also announced plans to create 100 new positions in New York.
Although the competitiveness of the global solar manufacturing market is making it difficult for U.S. producers to compete, many analysts agree that innovative technologies with major cost or efficiency gains will help. GE says its new plant will be completed in 2013.