General Electric (GE), the American conglomerate that has reinvented itself as a green energy giant, has two pieces of news for us: 1) it wants to build a thin-film solar factory in the U.S. and 2) it has bought the PrimeStar Solar Company.
These choices have not been made randomly, as PrimeStar Solar is responsible for creating the thin-film solar cells to be manufactured in the future factory.
What exactly are these thin-film solar cells and why all the fuss about them? First of all, they are the result of a research program conducted with the help of the Department of Energy’s National Center for Photovoltaics. They have cadmium telluride in their constituency and 12.8% efficiency in transforming sunlight to electricity, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab.
Apparently, this is not the greatest achievement: First Solar, GE’s competitor, has so far been producing cells from the same material only to obtain 11.2% efficiency. But silicon-made cells can brag about an efficiency of 20% maximum and cells made of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) have a proven 15.7%. Then why isn’t CIGS preferred to the cadmium telluride ones? Probably because the two materials are a sort of a spin-off from mining operations, thus making them more accessible than the rest of the four.
So this is what is going to be produced in the factory. Where is this factory going to be? That is still to be decided and communicated, but it will surely be ready by the end of this year.
In the meantime, First Solar is also setting up a 250 megawatt plant in Arizona, in addition to its already functioning Ohio one – this will make up for a total of 500 megawatts capacity starting next year. This competition is actually part of a general US trend to invest in the solar market: since last year, the market has grown by 67% and counting!