Sunday, May 29, 2011

GE to take on First Solar in Cd-Te thin film solar panels

GE's announcement that they will build a 400-MW solar panel manufacturing plant in Colorado, using the Cadmium-Telluride (Cd-Te) thin film process has industry analysts speculating that either GE has found a way to make the panels with less than the 3-micron thickness currently used, or that they have secretly found a new, unknown supply of Te. [right, Cd-Te array, National Renewable Energy Lab]

The world leader in Cd-Te thin film production is Tempe-based First Solar, which is building a new $300 million, 250-MW plant in Mesa, Arizona.

EnergyBiz quotes Sam Jaffe, an analyst at IDC Energy Insights, as saying the industry goal is $1/watt and "the industry leader, First Solar, is well on its way to reaching that price goal by already significantly dropping module costs."

'It’s my opinion that the breakthrough has already happened with First Solar. Their goal is to reach 56 cents a watt by 2014. Historically, they have a very good track record of meeting their publicly stated goals,” he said. “The issue is First Solar is not just the top leader, they’re really the only game in town at those prices of production costs. In the economics of pricing you can’t have just one low price leader, you need to have two in order for them to compete against each other and bring those costs down.

“That’s where the significance of General Electric and their program comes in. If there’s anybody that has a chance to match First Solar’s engineering and manufacturing, it’s them,” Jaffe added.

And that’s where a possible technical breakthrough comes in, which Jaffe says is strictly hypothetical.

“The big unknown is they’re playing in the cadmium-tellurium market and it’s unknown how much cad-tel is really out there,” he said.

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