Wind energy is getting plenty of press this week with the news that Google and Good Energy are investing in a $5 billion grid for U.S. offshore wind farms — not to mention new estimates that wind could provide between 5 and 22 percent of the world’s power by 2030. But out West, the buzz today is about solar’s forward momentum as nearly 30,000 attendees are expected at the three-day Solar Power International conference in Los Angeles.
The meeting kicked off with the release of a new report from the Solar Industries Energy Association and GTM Research which found that “solar power could reach a major milestone in the United States this year by generating more than one gigawatt of electricity — enough to power 200,000 homes.” That’s up from just 441 megawatts in 2009.
With solar on the rise, GE is taking a page from its wind business — in which about $1 billion in R&D investments has translated into $29 billion in orders — and is ramping up its solar initiatives. At the conference, GE announced new thin film solar projects that follow different technology tracks and are designed to tackle the historic obstacle of solar — high cost. New technology was also unveiled that will keep the electrical grid stable as waves of solar power begin to flow into the nation’s power system.
|Thin is in: GE is pursing two thin film tracks. In one, GE is working with PrimeStar Solar, Inc. and has made significant advancements in the commercial development of a cadmium telluride thin film product, seen above. Plans are underway to ramp up production of these panels, which are made in Colorado and will be commercially available in 2011. Photo: PrimeStar.|
GE also announced a technical and commercial agreement with Japan’s Solar Frontier, which makes thin film panels using a technology known as CIGS, in which panels are coated with a compound known as copper indium gallium selenide.
As Bloomberg News explained, thin-film panels using either the cadmium telluride or CIGS process account for about 15 percent of a $28 billion global solar-panel market. But as prices rise for crystalline silicon, the thin film technologies are poised to gain an advantage.
Also at the conference, GE introduced a one-megawatt solar inverter, which is the largest in GE’s portfolio and can handle 300 more megawatts than the previous version. Solar inverters are key components in a solar power system that converts direct-current power generated by solar panels into usable electricity. They’re especially critical in keeping the grid reliable as larger solar projects come online.
As Victor Abate, who oversees GE’s renewable energy businesses, told Bloomberg, GE is pursuing a solar strategy — as with its wind business — that simultaneously focuses on power generation, grid integration and service contracts once the technology is deployed. “This is a big-bet commitment that GE’s making in renewable energy, and the next big phase is solar,” he said.
* Read about a proposal to require utilities to pay homeowners for power generated by their solar panels and fed into the grid in The Los Angeles Times
* Learn more about solar inverters on GE Reports
* Learn more at www.seia.org
* Read the executive summary of the quarterly solar industry data
* Read the thin film solar announcement
* Read the solar inverter announcement
* Read “Twenty thousand patents this decade, and counting” on GE reports
* Watch a video in which our scientists describe their thin film solar work
* See an interview with our lead solar researcher