In the world of renewable energy, cost and efficiency are key to making the technology affordable. Today, GE announced the highest-ever reported efficiency for CdTe thin film solar panels — a huge step toward making more solar available and affordable on a large scale. To make the technology, GE plans to build the largest solar plant in the U.S.

Solar efficiency is, of course, all about measuring how well the sun’s power can be converted to electricity. Now, GE’s full-size CdTe (cadmium telluride) thin film solar panel has achieved nearly 13 percent efficiency, as measured by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). To put this number into perspective, a one-percent increase in panel efficiency equals around a 10 percent decrease in system cost.

This new efficiency breakthrough was developed by scientists and technologists at GE’s Global Research Centers and PrimeStar Solar, Inc. — a company in which GE has held a majority equity stake since 2008 and has now just acquired in full. The solar buy follows the recently announced acquisition of Converteam, which makes critical technologies that help integrate renewable power — including solar panels — onto the grid.

The new panels will be produced at a new 400 MW solar plant that, once completed, will be the country’s largest and will produce enough panels to power 80,000 homes annually. As Danielle Merfeld, Director of the Solar Technology Platform at GE, explains in our accompanying video, that’s one solar panel coming off the assembly line every 10 seconds. The new facility is part of an expected $600 million plus investment made by GE in solar technology and commercialization.

In addition, today GE announced more than 100 megawatts of new commercial agreements for solar thin film products, including panels, inverters, and total solar power plants. GE’s largest solar agreement to date remains with NextEra Energy, for 60 megawatts of thin film solar panels. Once deployed, the panels will help grow NextEra’s solar power portfolio, solidifying the company’s position as the largest generator of solar energy in the U.S.

GE also has signed a 20 MW solar agreement with Invenergy for the supply of thin film solar panels and GE Brilliance solar inverters. Invenergy, a Chicago-based clean energy generation company, will install the solar products at a project site in Illinois that, upon completion, will be one of the largest solar installations in the state.

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