First Solar talks tough on GE’s thin-film plans

Note: This story was first published in Recharge newspaper before the departure of Rob Gillette as First Solar chief executive.

Global thin-film leader First Solar has welcomed GE’s entry into the cadmium-telluride (CdTe) market, but has this to say about its rival’s bold efficiency claims: “prove it”.

Last week, GE said it will build a 400MW CdTe plant in Colorado, as part of its aims to become one of PV’s biggest players.

First Solar chief executive Rob Gillette says it is good to have another “credible” group in the business. “The fact that they chose the technology that we use tells you quite a bit. They chose the technology that they think has the best opportunity for success.”

GE says it expects to hit 14% efficiency when modules made at the Colorado plant become commercially available in early 2013. First Solar’s plans do not call for that level of efficiency until 2014.

“It’s always easy, especially before you make anything, to talk about what it can do,” Gillette says.

“We’ve learned a lot over ten years about how to build high-volume, high-efficiency, improved-efficiency modules, and we know what it takes to make it work. So regardless of how big a gorilla they are or how much money gets invested, you’ve still got to be able to execute it.”

Gillette, who spent ten years at GE earlier in his career, says First Solar is a competitor, customer and supplier of the industrial giant, which — through its Energy Financial Services unit — purchased half of the 550MW Desert Sunlight project that First Solar has developed and will build.

Another major US thin-film player, Abound Solar, based in Colorado, also applauds GE’s entry. Marketing communications manager Becky Elizey says the GE factory will help Colorado become a solar technology hub, although that could lead to intensified competition for skilled workers.