GE to Make PrimeStar Solar Energy Panels at New Colorado Plant

GE has been a big investor in solar thermal technologies, including eSolar’s concentrating solar power business and wind power. The world record efficient cadmium telluride photovoltaic solar cell developed by NREL’s Dr. Xuanzhi Wu (left) and his colleagues was developed into a commercial product by PrimeStar and will soon be manufactured by General Electric.

General Electric (GE) announced that it will build a new thin-film photovoltaic (PV) solar panel manufacturing facility in Aurora, Colorado, to produce highly-efficient, low-cost panels that are based on innovative technology originally developed at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).

GE expects that the plant will produce enough solar panels annually to provide electricity to 80,000 homes and to create 355 jobs in Colorado over the next three to five years. The company expects that the factory’s manufacturing lines will be producing panels beginning next year and that the panels will be available for sale starting in 2013.

As I noted in an earlier post, the panels to be produced at the plant are based on cadmium telluride thin-film PV technology initially developed by a team of researchers at NREL, and later commercialized by Colorado start-up PrimeStar Solar. GE announced its outright acquisition of PrimeStar earlier this year, along with plans to invest $600 million around the company’s technology – plans that now officially include the plant in Aurora.

The Energy Department’s support has been critical to PrimeStar Solar’s success. PrimeStar Solar partnered with NREL to pursue cooperative research and development agreements. It was received a PV Incubator award from the Energy Department. This award helped the company build its initial 30 megawatts of manufacturing capacity.

With today’s news, PrimeStar panels become just the latest in a series of solar energy innovations supported by the Energy Department that have started out as promising technologies and are now commercially manufactured products creating jobs in the U.S. Other PV Incubator alumni have made similar headlines recently.

Silicon ink pioneer Innovalight was recently acquired by Dupont.

Siemens-backed Semprius is adding jobs in North Carolina by building the first plant to use its breakthrough micro-transfer printing technology to make tiny high-concentrating photovoltaic (HCPV) cells.

Abound Solar and Solopower are scaling up production of their respective thin-film panels, hoping to mimic the success of First Solar, which has built a multibillion dollar global business with technology developed at NREL just a decade ago.

The SunShot Incubator program is a great example of federal dollars leveraging private capital. Since 2007, the Incubator program has invested $60 million in 24 start-ups like PrimeStar to help them accelerate development of the technologies we need to make solar energy cost competitive with traditional generation by the end of the decade. Not all of the original 24 companies have succeeded. That is the nature of investing in high-risk, game-changing technologies.
Yet, many continue, and as a group, those 24 companies have been able to leverage more than $1.3 billion in private capital and today employ more than 1,200 people in the United States – a number we expect to grow. The solar market continues to grow and by supporting American solar energy innovation, we can lead in this important industry.

Minh Le, Chief Engineer, Solar Energy Technologies Program,