Cost the key at GE’s new CdTe plant

14. October 2011 | Global PV markets, Markets & Trends | By:  Jonathan Gifford

Executives from GE have faced journalists to answer questions regarding its new CdTe plant to be built in Colorado.

The GE logo.

GE will enter the photovoltaic manufacturing market and says that keeping production costs low is key. Image: flickr/Steve Wilhelm.

The plant hopes to begin producing modules in 2012 and, when fully ramped, will have a capacity of 400 megwatts (MW). This, the company claims, will make it larger than any other solar manufacturing facility in the U.S.

Matt Geyette, General Manager of Renewable Energy Strategy at GE, addressed the timing of the announcement, during a period of over-supply in the photovoltaic module market and rapidly falling prices. He said that low cost production at the GE CdTe plant is the key.

"As we look at all the different technologies out there […] the challenge is, when we went into our initial investigation of solar is that we needed to adopt a technology that we thought would beat all other technologies on the cost position. And given what’s happened in the market, you see how critical that is," concluded Geyette.

The GE executives would not be drawn on what the cost per watt production would be at the plant. Future CdTe rival First Solar has a cost point below USD$0.75 per watt.

In terms of the equipment used in the plant Danielle Murfel, General Manager of Solar Technology at GE addressed the question from pv magazine. "We do have some parts of our factory with equipment that we are buying from suppliers but all of our key deposition equipment is actually manufactured internally by our thin-film equipment group, in the GE solar business."

Toxic Cadmium

Murfel also addressed a pv magazine question regarding some of the toxicity concerns, relating to the cadmium used in the modules, that have embroiled First Solar. "My biggest concern with that is that is that it is largely driven by public perception which (in turn) is driven by competitive forces concerned by the ability of thin-film to really come in at such a low cost."

She continued that the technical evaluations have all cleared CdTe modules of safety concerns. Murfel said that the construction, production and ramp-up period for the fab has been accelerated; hence the first production is expected before the end of 2012. First GE thin-film modules are expected to have a module efficiency of 14 percent or greater.

Solar carports

In other GE news, the company has formed a partnership to develop scalable solar carports

Inovateus Solar and GE Energy Industrial Solutions announced last week that they will join forces to build photovoltaic carport charging station.

The two companies will team up to create scalable solar carports with the capability to provide lighting, shelter and charging stations for electric cars. The carports range in size from five kilowatts (kW), which can charge two to four vehicles, to large commercial lots worth 250 kW, charging 17 to 19 cars per day.

Under the deal Inovateus will construct the carports with GE supplying various components including combiner boxes, electric vehicle charging stations, electrical distribution panels and switches, and solar safety switches known as "photovoltaic (PV) disconnects".

Commenting in a way that echoes photovoltaic’s bad publicity in the U.S. in the light of Solyndra’s failure, Inovateus President T.J. Kanczuzewski said in a statement: "We need more practical solar success stories like this one."

Kanczuzewski continued, "We believe this new agreement between GE and Inovateus to expand the use of solar charging carports with a scalable solution is a real game changer for solar energy and the future of electric cars.”

GE’s General Manager of Marketing, Chris Bowler, added that the financial rewards for customers who have installed the solar carports are substantial, as Solar Renewable Energy Credits can be sold to brokers and tax credits received from various levels of government. This is on top of the electricity generated.


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