GE has announced plans to spend $600 million on a new solar factory located in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado. The factory, which begins operations in 2012, will be capable of producing enough solar panels per year to generate 400 megawatts of power, or enough energy to power 80,000 homes. When completed, the factory will be bigger than 11 football fields – soon to be the largest factory of its kind in the U.S.
The business will also bring 355 jobs to Colorado plus 100 more positions at GE’s research facility in upstate New York.
The company is retrofitting and expanding an existing 200,000 sq. foot former L’Oreal Worldwide warehouse, a project which will require a $300 million investment. Over the next two years, GE will double the building’s size.
Colorado is already the manufacturing site for GE Energy’s thin film solar pilot line, a joint technology development between GE’s Global Research Center and PrimeStar Solar, a company GE acquired in April. The new factory is located near this smaller, 30 MW facility and a GE solar research center. GE says the location will enable an accelerated start-up schedule with production equipment installation beginning in January 2012.
The new factory will produce thin film solar panels made from cadium telluride, which are cheaper than traditional crystalline silicon panels. It’s the same technology as produced by First Solar, the largest solar company in the world by market cap.
The panels are lighter, which helps ease installation. They’re also large, which helps to lower the total system cost by reducing the amount of racking and electrical components required. Shipments to utilities and commercial customers will start in early 2013, according to the annoucement.
GE’s plan for solar is similar to the one for its wind business, a space the company entered in 2002 – that is, it plans to grow through both technology and scale. GE now has more than 27 gigawatts of wind and solar resources installed around the world.