Monday, February 6, 2012

GE Sells Solar to Wind Farms

As renewable energy deals ago, General Electric’s announcement this week that it would supply 23 megawatts of solar panels for an Illinois photovoltaic farm was rather small change.

But it’s the type of thin-film solar panels and where the photovoltaic power plant will be built that foreshadows a potentially sizable business opportunity as well as a way to maximize renewable energy production.

Energy producer Invenergy will build the Grand Ridge Solar project in Illinois adjacent to its 210-megawatt wind farm. (Powered, not coincidentally, by GE wind turbines.)

By pairing wind and solar farms, Invenergy makes more efficient use of the transmission system, given that both sources of electricity are intermittent and tend to hit peak production at different times of day. That helps power grid operators balance supply and demand.

“You put those two together you have a much more dispatchable and local renewable system,” Victor Abate, vice president of GE’s renewable energy business, told me Thursday. “We’ve built 30 gigawatts of wind farms so adding solar is a good utilization of assets.”

Abate says it’s too early to tell how big a market that could be but notes that installing solar at just 10% of those wind farm sites would sell out GE’s solar panel production for the next five or six years.

The company is building the U.S.’s largest solar panel factory in Colorado, which will annually manufacture 400 megawatts of cadmium-telluride thin-film photovoltaic panels. (That poses a competitive threat to First Solar, the industry leader that dominates the market for cadmium-telluride solar panels.)

But GE will be supplying a different type of thin-film solar panels made by Japan’s Solar Frontier to the Invenergy project in Illinois. It’s the second win this week for Solar Frontier’s CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) technology.

On Monday, renewable energy developer enXco announced that it would build a 150-megawatt solar farm in the Southern California desert using Solar Frontier panels near its wind farms in the Tehachapi Mountains. Those wind and solar farms will share a 4,500-megawatt renewable energy transmission line under construction in the Tehachapi.

That is by far the biggest deployment of CIGS technology, which a number of Silicon Valley startups have been working on for years to commercialize as it promises cheaper solar electricity through by lowering production costs.


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