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GE Solar Panels With 14% Efficiency May Surpass First Solar

General Electric Co., the world’s biggest maker of power-generating equipment, said it will produce thin-film solar panels that convert at least 14 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity and may surpass products offered by First Solar Inc.

When a new plant in Colorado reaches full capacity of 400 megawatts a year, efficiency will be above 14 percent, Danielle Merfeld, the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company’s solar product line leader, said today in an interview. Production will begin next year and initial shipments are expected in 2013. She didn’t say when the facility will reach full capacity or how much the panels will cost.

A conversion rate above 14 percent will make GE’s panels some of the most-efficient thin-film products in volume production.

“Fourteen percent is competitive,” Aaron Chew, an analyst at Maxim Group LLC in New York, said today in an interview. “They’ll get a price premium or they can price at the same level” as other companies’ thin-film panels and take market share.

First Solar, the largest manufacturer of thin-film panels, had an average efficiency of 11.7 percent in the second-quarter. It’s working on technology that may yield panels with 15.3 percent efficiency in volume production, and hasn’t set a date when they will be available.

Alan Bernheimer, a spokesman for Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar, declined to comment today. The company said in its second-quarter earnings report in August that it expects to offer panels with 13.5 percent to 14.5 percent efficiency in 2014.

GE said yesterday that it will open a factory in Aurora, Colorado. It will make enough panels to power approximately 80,000 U.S. homes. It’s expected to cost $300 million and will employ 350 people.

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