GE Becomes Prime Investor in PrimeStar

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We were a bit surprised when GE announced last September it was acquiring a minority interest in a thin-film solar company called PrimeStar Solar. Well, it looks like GE was more than pleased with that investing move because yesterday afternoon GE Energy (a division of GE) said it has bumped up that stake to become PrimeStar’s majority shareholder.

Based in Golden, Colo., and founded in June 2006, PrimeStar makes thin-film solar panels from cadmium telluride using technology developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Cadmium telluride is a material that has gained a lot of traction as the leading player in the thin-film market, First Solar (FSLR), forecast $1 billion-plus revenue this year, and has seen its stock soar; the company has even been called the Google of Cleantech (minus that pesky CEO stock sell-off).

But while cadmium telluride is one of the first types of thin-film solar to hit the market, it does have some weaknesses. Analysts have long pointed out that cadmium can be toxic and could be banned by concerned European countries for use in solar cells. And competing companies are quickly starting to mass produce the next generation of thin-film solar material made from copper indium gallium selenide or CIGS. Just this week Global Solar said it would soon start producing its CIGS-based thin-film strings for customers.

Under GE’s Ecomagination green initiatve, which was launched in May of 2005, the company plans to invest $1.5 billion annually in research in cleaner technologies by 2010, up from $700 million in 2004. Last year GE announced that it would use DayStar Technologies (DSTI) CIGS-based thin-film solar cells as part of its research program. Now with this increased investment in PrimeStar, it looks like GE is betting on multiple horses in the thin-film race.

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