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GE's solar CdTe panels to energise Colorado

In the past two years, more than 20 solar and wind companies have announced expansions or relocations to the state

Last week, GE announced that it plans to build the nation's largest photovoltaic panel factory in Aurora, Colorado.

The 200,000 square-foot plant, which will cost $300 million to retrofit and will employ 355 workers, will produce thin-film CdTe photovoltaic panels using technology designed by PrimeStar Solar, a Colorado company GE purchased earlier this year.

When running at full capacity, the plant will make 400 megawatts worth of panels a year, enough to support the power demand of 80,000 homes.

Colorado beat out 10 other states to land the investment, including New York, because of its strong workforce, proximity to one of GE's existing "centres of excellence" and availability of needed infrastructure.

Victor Abate, head of GE's renewable energy business said that the work the company has done with its Colorado-based solar team allowed them to "achieve efficiencies in our solar panels in record time."

“The Colorado location will allow us to deliver our technology roadmap faster and commercialise industry-leading panel efficiencies sooner," he continued.

Solar panels produced in GE's new Colorado factory will also be more efficient, lighter weight and larger than conventional thin film panels.

"We also look forward to continuing to build our relationships with Colorado's local, state and federal officials who have been extremely helpful as we moved through the site selection process," Abate added.

"This is great news for Colorado and further proof that our state is emerging as a centre of innovation," said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. "GE's move to Aurora takes advantage of Colorado's clean energy resources and a collaborative business environment that is committed to helping the company succeed."

GE is the most recent win for Colorado in its long line of clean technology announcements. In the past two years, more than 20 solar and wind companies, including industry giants Vestas and SMA Solar Technology, have announced they would expand or relocate to the state.

"Our state's strategic location, collaborative spirit and supportive legislation are really attractive to companies in the clean technology industry," said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation (Metro Denver EDC). "Colorado has created high demand for clean energy with its 30 percent Renewable Energy Standard, the second-highest in the nation."

While there is abundant sunshine in the state, cleantech companies in Colorado also benefit from the state's vast intellectual resources including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Department of Energy's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development, which is located in Golden, Colorado.

The access to research and development is a key reason why Abound Solar, which just this year received a guaranteed loan of $400 million from the Department of Energy (DOE), is in the state.

Founded in 2007, Abound Solar is a spinoff of Colorado State University that, during its infancy, received support from NREL. Abound Solar's next-generation CdTe thin-film modules use a proven technology that performs better than crystalline silicon in low light and high temperature conditions resulting in more energy produced per watt of capacity. Today, the company has grown to more than 350 employees in Colorado and plans to use the DOE loan to increase that number to 300 more at its existing manufacturing plant in Colorado.

Another company in the state that is using partnerships to help drive its commercial growth is Nokero, which designs affordable solar technologies for off-grid communities.

Short for "No Kerosene," Nokero was formed in June 2010 by Colorado inventor Steve Katsaros who was looking to develop safe and environmentally-friendly products that eliminate the need for harmful and polluting fuels used around the world and, most importantly, are affordable to the communities that need them.

"We've found Denver ideal for creating partnerships and sharing ideas," said Nokero co-founder Tom Boyd. "We have access to venture capitalists in Boulder and our key international customers can easily get here thanks to Denver International Airport, which is a huge benefit as we grow into a leader in small-scale renewable energy."

In fact, at this week's Solar Power International 2011 trade show and exposition, Colorado has partnered with Nokero to help shed light on the state's solar story while at the same time promoting a cause dear to the company's core – donating Nokero solar light bulbs to people in Third World countries. Attendees can visit Colorado at booth #6201.

Starting today through Thursday, Oct. 20, the Metro Denver EDC will donate five Nokero solar light bulbs to Project C.U.R.E. for every new 50 likes on its Facebook page or for every 25 #CleantechHub retweets from its Twitter account.

"This is a great example of how Colorado companies are not only innovative in their approach to technology, but in their approach to supporting the global economy," said the Metro Denver EDC's Clark. "We're grateful that Solar Power International gives us the forum to help share Colorado's light with others who need it."
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