General Electric has recently written about GE’s accelerated push into next-generation “thin film” solar technology. In the post below – excerpted from tech blog greenbiz.com — Danielle Merfeld, who is director of solar technologies at GE Global Research, tackles the topic of “Why it’s time to take solar seriously.”

The vision for thin film solar panels is that they will be lightweight, inexpensive and can one day be wrapped around objects, conform to a roof, or even hung like sails.
Flex time: The vision for thin film solar panels is that they will be lightweight, inexpensive and can one day be wrapped around objects, conform to a roof, or even hung like sails. R&D on thin film at GE Global Research is pictured above

 

Danielle Merfeld
Danielle Merfeld

“The ongoing debate today is whether solar photovoltaics (PV) will emerge from its niche position within the energy sector to become a larger part of our power generation portfolio,” Danielle writes on greenbiz.com. “Because solar PV has been in development for 60 years, you could easily assume that it might be another 60 years before it becomes a major energy source. But speaking from within a company that has supplied 25 percent of the world’s power generation technology, that future could arrive sooner than many realize.

“Right now, PV costs are higher than other solutions today — including other renewables. But the overall trends and recent progress within the PV industry reveal that solar is poised for major growth…. PV module costs are 10 times cheaper than what they were 30 years ago. Even more impressive is the greater than 30 percent reduction in installed PV systems costs in the U.S. — and even deeper reductions in Germany where competition has become more fierce over the past decade.

“Despite the financial crisis, investor interest in solar technology continues to be strong. Solar PV held the distinction of having more venture capital and private equity funding funneled into it than any other technology on the planet from 2006 to 2008. “These investments and others have borne advances such as cheaper, more efficient thin film PV modules, and micro inverters that enable safer, modular, scalable rooftop systems complete with built-in communications. Companies like GE and others are working to address the integration challenges of putting large amounts of variable resource onto the electrical grid through advanced controls and communications, as well as looking at important storage issues….

“Although electricity demand is down in North America, Europe and Japan, we also should not underestimate the need for future replacement generation. Coal retirements by 2015 alone could account for a sizable chunk … Another trend that could disrupt our expectations for power generation requirements is the electrification of vehicles. A gradual shift to electric cars in the U.S. (10 percent by 2020) would create a new source of distributed demand….

“Of course, there are potential downsides as policy changes could delay or inhibit growth, and integration challenges to grid infrastructure could delay high penetration of PV generation on the grid. But even still, the trend is unmistakable.”

* Read her full post on greenbiz.com
* Watch “Cracking the thin film solar code in GE’s 4 global labs” on GE Reports
* See GE's interview with Danielle: “Catching rays with ‘solar sails’” on GE Reports
* Read about GE's thin film solar partnership with PrimeStar Solar
* Hear more from the scientists at GE Global Research
* Read more Global Research stories on GE Reports
* Read “Cheers! To a decade of innovation at GE’s labs” on GE Reports