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13 June 2008


GE takes majority stake in PrimeStar Solar

After acquiring a minority stake last September, GE’s power generation division GE Energy of Atlanta, GA, USA has now taken a majority stake in PrimeStar Solar Inc.

PrimeStar was co-founded in June 2006 to develop cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic modules using technology from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO (with which NREL professor Xuanzhi Wu has achieved record CdTe PV efficiency of 16.5%).

To date, PrimeStar has secured seed capital of more than $6m from individual investors and a global investment bank to help fund the initial work on scaling up CdTe PV module production.

In February 2007, PrimeStar signed an $870,000 cooperative R&D agreement (CRADA) to transfer NREL’s CdTe PV technology to commercial production, under principal investigators Wu at NREL and Drs Joe Beach and Fred Seymour at PrimeStar. The agreement also provided with access to NREL’s PV scientists and equipment for processing and stability improvements. In addition, PrimeStar leased a 16,000 square foot facility in Golden to develop a pilot plant, using CdTe processing tools from the firm’s Michigan Equipment Center in Montague, MI.

In June 2007, PrimeStar was also awarded $3m over 18 months by the DOE within the Photovoltaic Technology Incubator Program of its Solar America Initiative (a cost-shared, three-year cooperative agreement to make solar energy competitive with other power generation technologies).

Under its Ecomagination initiative (launched in May 2005), GE plans to invest $1.5bn annually in research in cleaner technologies by 2010 (up from $700m in 2004). In particular, solar is playing an increasing role in GE Energy's renewable energy portfolio and is expected to grow as energy costs continue to rise. In March 2007, GE’s solar business was awarded $18.6m under the Solar America Initiative. As part of its research program, in June 2007 GE said that it would use CIGS-based thin-film solar cells from DayStar Technologies.

“Increasing our stake in PrimeStar Solar to a majority interest underscores our continuing commitment to solar energy,” says Victor Abate, GE Energy’s VP of renewables. “Thin-film technology, we believe, is the best long-term solution for cost-effective solar.”

“In the last few years, the production of CdTe PV modules has become a fast-growing business because of low cost and high throughput,” says NREL’s Wu. In particular, the main CdTe thin-film PV maker, First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA, has quarterly revenues of about $200m and forecasts $1bn-plus for 2008. However, GE’s investment in PrimeStar could impact First Solar’s dominance. Meanwhile, other firms developing CdTe solar cells include Colorado State University spin-off AVA Technologies LLC of Fort Collins, CO, USA and Calyxo GmbH of Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Germany, a subsidiary of silicon PV maker Q-Cells founded in 2005 (which last November acquired CdTe PV maker Solar Fields of Toledo, OH, USA for $5m, forming Calyxo USA Inc). This year, Calyxo is expanding its pilot plant to a capacity of 25MWp and has broken ground on a new 60MWp plant (for ramp up next year).

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