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GE re-enters solar business with thin-film 'system'

General Electric says its thin-film solar panels will be available next year along with equipment to ease operation of utility-scale solar power plants.

GE plans to manufacturer thin-film solar panels made with cadmium telluride solar cells.
GE plans to manufacturer thin-film solar panels made with cadmium telluride solar cells.

General Electric aims to bulk up its presence in solar power with the introduction today of thin-film solar panels and accompanying equipment.

The company said that its thin-film solar panels, made in conjunction with PrimeStar Solar, will be commercially available next year. The panels, constructed with cadmium telluride cells, will be made at PrimeStar's 30-megawatt manufacturing line in Colorado next year, and the companies plan to scale up production.

GE also detailed equipment and a partnership aimed at making its panels suitable for utility-scale solar projects. The announcement is timed with the Solar Power International conference going on this week in Los Angeles.

It said its Brilliance inverters, now used with GE's wind turbines, will work with its panels in solar power plants. The 700-kilowatt or one-megawatt inverters, which convert direct current to alternating current, will include a performance monitoring and control system designed to ease operation of large numbers of panels.

Japanese energy developer Solar Frontier will supply its own thin-film panels to GE for GE's utility-scale solar projects, the companies said.

Already involved in many energy businesses, GE officials have called solar its "next wind" business. The company says that its thin-film technology will undercut other solar providers on cost. First Solar also manufacturers cadmium telluride cells.

"We recently celebrated a milestone when our CdTe (cadmium telluride) cell efficiencies topped 15 percent on commercial glass. With continued advancement, we know we can further reduce total installed system costs, making solar more accessible to consumers worldwide," said Danielle Merfeld, GE's solar research and development leader, in a statement.

The company plans to market its solar panels to both utilities and consumers. It is phasing out its existing operations of making solar panels with silicon solar cells.

Updated at 6:39 p.m. PT with correction to the details of GE's partnership with Solar Frontier.