Solar Power Industry Consolidation Has Upsides

GE and First Solar announced [last] week an important step towards consolidation of the solar industry that will result in the loss of a new solar manufacturing facility  in Colorado and, potentially 350 jobs.  Clearly the announcement is frustrating for Colorado, a state we featured in EDF’s Clean Energy Economic Development Series, which highlights key road maps for maximizing economic development from clean energy markets.

But, the announcement includes lots of good news – which is probably more significant for the U.S.’s long-term solar power play as well as overall economic opportunity and job creation.  In 2009, GE purchased PrimeStar Solar, a company first seeded at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), located in Colorado.  PrimeStar Solar (renamed Arvada research center) made significant advances in the efficiency of cadmium-telluride (CdTe) thin film solar panels.  This lowered the cost of thin film solar panels overall and made them more competitive with traditional solar panels.

first solar GE

First Solar panels installed at utility-scale site (image via First Solar)

CdTe thin film solar panels require less material than alternative technologies – which lowers their cost – but their efficiency continues to lag behind traditional, silicon-based solar panels.  The deal gives GE a large stock position in First Solar in exchange for giving First Solar the new CdTe thin film solar technology – essentially creating a key strategic partnership between the two companies.

First Solar, as the U.S. leader in solar power development, offers a unique ability to bring new technologies to scale.   Deploying and further developing CdTe thin film solar technology from Arvada is critical to further advances in panel efficiency, and First Solar is well positioned to deliver these advances with continued GE research, input and support.

Leading solar experts, such as the head of NREL’s lad, Dan Arvizu, continue to believe that vast opportunities exists for improving the efficiency of solar panels, particularly CdTe thin film.  Commenting on these opportunities last spring, Zachary Shahan, Director of CleanTechnica, summarized the global challenge as: “I guess the question this leaves us with is which technology or technologies will improve their real-world efficiencies using low-cost materials quickly enough to dominate the solar power market in the coming decades?”

By jointly harnessing their expertise in research and development, industry leaders GE and First Solar have the potential to dominate the solar energy industry, a good news story for the U.S.   We hope Colorado reaps some of those long-term economic, environmental and health benefits, and we know that the prospect of having a homegrown, global powerhouse in solar power guarantees long-term benefits for the country as a whole.

EDFEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund. Author credit goes to Jackie Roberts.

Environmental Defense Fund focuses on environmental problems where our expertise is most urgently needed. Is it a scientifically important challenge, not being addressed by others? Does it have the potential for transformational change? Are market-based solutions the most effective response? For most of our work, the answer to all three questions is "Yes."

    • de co

      First Solar, as the nation’s leading solar power development, provides a unique ability to bring new technologies to scale

      http://www.sungoldpower.co.uk/

    • orcasislandtv

      Creating a solar energy monarchy in the US via General Electric can’t do much for the solar industry except stagnate it.

      GE, an economic monarchy is just awful for the American economy, and their ‘fire people first’ approach in Colorado demonstrates just how poorly thought out GE’s plan for the American economy is. This GE take-over is the result of the GOP Congress’ constant anti-American cuts in innovation spending, handing the industry to America’s largest military-industrial monarchy – GE. Free Markets in America are dying rapidly as the GOP Congress extends its reach into ever corner of the American free market and closes them with some crony deal-making – under the guise that one-really-big-corporation is better than an American free market.

      Part of the reason American Health care is astronomically expensive is the absurd, ancient, pricing GE as a market monopoly sets for equipment. The list is endless of why making ever larger corporate entities serves no long term American population interest. The consolidation of the alternative energy market under GE is a very very poor choice over American free market economics.