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GE halts construction of new thin-film factory

On July 3, General Electric announced it was suspending construction of what was to be the country’s biggest thin-film solar plant.

Construction of the Aurora, Colorado plant will be on hold for at least 18 months thanks to plummeting prices for solar panels and a manufacturing supply glut.

Traditionally, thin-film technology has been less efficient but cheaper than conventional silicon panels. But the drop in cost of silicon and PV production oversupply has put pressure on thin-film producers to both increase efficiency of their solar panels and also lower costs in order to stay competitive.

While GE has not canceled construction of the Colorado plant, the delay will be spent increasing their modules’ efficiency from the present 13 percent to at least 15 percent, and modifying the design of the factory as needed.

The Solar Lab at GE's Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY. Photo Credit: Bloomberg

“Over the last six months with all the changes that have happened in the industry resulting in this 50% drop in module prices, given those dynamics we are putting our plant on pause essentially and we’re focusing our efforts on developing the next generation of cad-tel module technology so that we can reach higher efficiency levels and a more competitive cost position,” Danielle Merfeld, general manager of solar technologies at GE, told Forbes.

“The good news is we are keeping our factory in place in the sense of the equipment and the tools that are there,” said Merfeld.“But ultimately we expect the new improvements in technology will require some modifications to that plant design.”

GE announced the plant’s construction in October and was expected to employ about 350 workers. With a $300 million price tag, the plant was expected to make enough panels to power 80,000 homes each year.

It is unclear how much of the current workforce has been laid off, but according to Forbes, “GE has “sized the team appropriately” by laying off workers whose skills are more appropriate for plant construction than technology development.”

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