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First Solar

First Solar, Inc.
Type Public company (NASDAQ: FSLR)
S&P 500 Component
Founded 1999 (as First Solar Holdings, LLC)
Headquarters Tempe, Arizona, U.S.
Key people Michael J. Ahearn, Chairman of Supervisory Board, James Hughes, CEO
Revenue Increase US$3.37 billion (FY 2012)[1]
Operating income Decrease –US$37.6 million (FY 2012)[1]
Net income Decrease –US$96.3 million (FY 2012)[1]
Total assets Increase US$6.35 billion (FY 2012)[1]
Total equity Decrease US$3.61 billion (FY 2012)[1]
Employees Decrease 5,600 (2012)[1]

First Solar, Inc. is an American photovoltaic (PV) manufacturer of rigid thin film modules, or solar panels, and a provider of utility-scale PV power plants and supporting services that include finance, construction, maintenance and end-of-life panel recycling. First Solar uses cadmium telluride (CdTe) as a semiconductor to produce CdTe-panels, that are competing successfully with conventional crystalline silicon technology.[2] In 2009, First Solar became the first solar panel manufacturing company to lower its manufacturing cost to $1 per watt[3] and produced CdTe-panels with an efficiency of about 14 percent at a reported cost of 59 cents per watt in 2013.[4]

The company was founded in 1990 by inventor Harold McMaster as Solar Cells, Inc. and the Florida Corporation in 1993 with JD Polk. In 1999 it was purchased by True North Partners, LLC, who rebranded it as First Solar, Inc. The company went public in 2006, trading on the NASDAQ. Its current chief executive is James Hughes, who succeeded interim CEO Mike Ahearn on May 3, 2012.[5] First Solar is based in Tempe, Arizona. As of 2010, First Solar was considered the second-largest maker of PV modules worldwide[6] and ranked sixth in Fast Company’s list of the world's 50 most innovative companies.[7] In 2011, it ranked first on Forbes’s list of America’s 25 fastest-growing technology companies.[8] It is listed on the Photovoltaik Global 30 Index since the beginning of this stock index in 2009. The company was also listed as No. 1 in Solar Power World magazine’s 2012 and 2013 rankings of solar contractors.[9]


  • Technology 1
  • Corporate history 2
  • Market history 3
    • Production history 3.1
  • Market performance 4
  • Grid parity 5
  • Undermining Solar Power? 6
  • Installations 7
    • North America 7.1
    • Europe, Middle East and North Africa 7.2
    • Asia and Australia 7.3
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10
    • News 10.1


First Solar manufactures cadmium telluride (CdTe)-based photovoltaic (PV) modules, which produce electricity with a thin CdTe film on glass.[10] First Solar created a world record-breaking cell with 20.4% efficiency in the laboratory, confirmed by NREL,[11] in February 2014 and a world record-breaking PV module with 17.0% efficiency, confirmed by NREL,[12] in March 2014.

Corporate history

In 1984, inventor and entrepreneur Harold McMaster founded Glasstech Solar. McMaster foresaw the opportunity to manufacture low-cost, thin film cells on a large scale. After trying amorphous silicon, he shifted to CdTe at the urging of Jim Nolan and founded Solar Cells, Inc., (SCI) in 1990.[13] and the Florida Corporation in 1993 with JD Polk. In February 1999, McMaster sold the company to True North Partners, an investment arm of the Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart.[14] John T. Walton joined the Board of the new company, and Mike Ahearn of True North became the CEO of the newly minted First Solar. In its early years, First Solar module efficiencies were modest, about 7 percent.

First Solar launched production of commercial products in 2002 and reached an annual production of 25 megawatts (MW) in 2005.[15] At the end of 2009, First Solar had surpassed an annual production rate of one gigawatt (GW)[16] and was the largest PV module manufacturer in the world.[17]

The company is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona and has manufacturing facilities in Perrysburg, Ohio and Kulim, Malaysia.[18] Additionally, First Solar partnered with natural gas provider Enbridge to build the largest PV solar energy farm in the world,[19] located in Sarnia, Ontario, near the U.S.-Canadian border.

In July 2010, First Solar formed a utility systems business group to address the large-scale PV systems solutions market. Utility systems are now the company's core business focus, with a strategy to focus on markets that do not require subsidies to support the solar generation business.[20]

On April 17, 2012, First Solar announced it would restructure operations worldwide. This restructuring process included phasing out operations in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany and idling four production lines in Kulim, Malaysia.[21] 30% of First Solar's workforce was laid off as a result of these actions, which were blamed on market volatility and reduced demand.[22] Mark Widmar, the CFO of First Solar, said, "We need to resize our business to a level of demand that is highly reliable and predictable."[23]

On May 3, 2012 James Hughes was appointed CEO of First Solar. Previously he had been Chief Commercial Officer. Company founder and former CEO Mike Ahearn remains Chairman of the Board.[5]

Market history

Historically, First Solar sold its products to solar project developers, system integrators, and independent power producers. Early sales were primarily in Germany because of strong incentives for solar enacted in the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) of 2000 (cp. Solar power in Germany). Declines and uncertainty in feed-in-tariff subsidies for solar power in European markets, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain,[24] prompted major PV manufacturers, such as First Solar, to accelerate their expansion into other markets, including the U.S., India and China.[25]

Beginning in December 2011, First Solar has shifted away from existing markets that are heavily dependent on government subsidies and toward providing utility-scale PV systems in sustainable markets with immediate need.[26] As a result, it now competes against conventional power generators,[27] and has reduced its focus on the rooftop market.[20]

On February 24, 2009, First Solar's cost per watt broke the $1 barrier, reaching $0.98. Production cost has continued to fall and in February 2013, reached $0.68 per watt.[1]

Production history

In 2011, the company had 36 production lines with 2,376 megawatts of annual manufacturing capacity. Each line had a 66-megawatt capacity. The first factory was built in Ohio, followed by a four-line manufacturing plant in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. In April 2007, the firm announced the construction of a plant in Kulim Hi-Tech Park, Malaysia, which was expanded to six plants in 2010. In October 2008, the firm began an expansion of its facility in Perrysburg, Ohio, completed in 2010,[28] which brought First Solar's global annual production capacity to 1,228 MW.

In the summer of 2009, the company announced plans to build its fourth production plant in France. In October 2010, First Solar announced it would build two new four-line manufacturing plants, one each in Vietnam and the United States. In November 2011 it postponed commissioning the Vietnam plant.[29] In February 2012, it postponed commissioning of a new U.S. plant in Mesa, AZ until demand develops. In May 2012, four lines in Malaysia were shut down indefinitely and plans to shutter the facility in Germany were announced.

Country 2005 Capacity 2006 Capacity 2007 Capacity 2008 Capacity 2009 Capacity 2010 Capacity 2011 Capacity 2012 Capacity
Line capacity 25 MW 33 MW 44 MW 48 MW 53 MW 62.6 MW 66 MW 70 MW (est)
USA 25 MW 100 MW 132 MW 143 MW 160 MW 250 MW 264 MW 280 MW
Germany 176 MW 191 MW 214 MW 250 MW 528 MW 220 MW (est)
Malaysia 382 MW 854 MW 1002 MW 1584 MW 1400 MW
Total Capacity 25 MW 100 MW 308 MW 716 MW 1228 MW 1502 MW 2376 MW 1900 MW*

(Source: First Solar Financial Report for Quarter 1 2012 Earnings Call; "First Solar to Boost Production as Profit, Sales Climb," Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2012)

  • First Solar increased its estimate for 2012 production to between 1,800 and 1,900 MWs in its Financial Report for Quarter 2.[30]

Market performance

While First Solar witnessed record sales of over $3.37 billion in 2012, its restructuring efforts impacted the bottom line, leading to a net loss of $96.3 million – or $1.11 per share – for the year.[31]

Historically, the low cost of First Solar’s modules has been the key to its market performance. The use of cadmium telluride instead of silicon allowed it to achieve a significantly lower module cost ($0.67 per watt),[32] compared to crystalline-silicon PV, which averaged $1.85 per watt in 2010.[33]

As the company shifts its focus away from module sales to utility-scale projects, it will need to become price competitive with non-solar power sources, a move which its executives say will require the company to reduce manufacturing costs and optimize efficiency.[34]

Grid parity

In November 2012, First Solar announced that its manufacturing cost had fallen to 67 cents per watt, a 6-cent decrease from February 2012.[35] By 2015, it expects to drive down cost per watt to make solar modules to between 52 and 54 cents. The biggest driver of the lower costs is better efficiency.[34]

In a December 2012 RenewEconomy interview with First Solar CEO James Hughes,[36] he made the following comments regarding Grid parity:

"Everyone wants to talk about “grid parity” – I’ve banned that phrase from the lexicon of First Solar. Electricity has value only at a point in time and a geographic place . There is no magic number that describes the true economic cost of electricity. You may have a tariff structure that describes it that way, but that is not the reality, and frankly, sophisticated power markets don’t operate like that. So you have to look at time of day, season and location to determine the true cost of power, and there are lots of times of day, seasons and locations where solar is economic today without subsidy. So our focus is to find those places, find those times of day, and find those market structures where we can apply ourselves."

Undermining Solar Power?

A new study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) finds that the Waltons are funding nearly two dozen anti-solar groups — such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Americans for Prosperity, which are waging state and national fights to roll back clean energy policies — while a Walton-owned energy company is pushing for regulations that hinder the growth of rooftop solar power. Rooftop solar has been cited as a tremendous opportunity to accelerate the transition to renewable power, save money for homeowners, and create tens of thousands of new jobs, but, as the report details, the Waltons’ interventions and spending are a very real threat to this future.[37]

Last year, ILSR found that since Walmart launched its environmental campaign in 2005, the company’s self-reported greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 14 percent. Instead of investing in efforts to reduce carbon pollution, Walmart continues to support lawmakers who deny global warming. ILSR’s 2013 report finds that both Walmart’s and the Walton family’s political donations heavily favor lawmakers who voted to keep subsidies for oil companies and prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. [38]

“In June 2013, Walton-owned First Solar sent shock waves through the solar industry when its CEO, James Hughes, published an op-ed in the Arizona Republic endorsing a proposal by the state’s biggest utility to impose a new fee on households with rooftop solar. Averaging about $50 to $100 a month, the proposed fee would be large enough to completely destroy the economics of household energy production, halting the spread of residential rooftop solar in Arizona. As the rest of the solar industry closed ranks and joined with environmental and consumer groups in opposing the plan, First Solar backed the utility, insisting that it was right to maximize its financial position. Bryan Miller, a vice president at Sunrun and president of the Alliance for Solar Choice, put First Solar’s actions in perspective: “No solar company has publicly advocated against solar until First Solar.”[39]


First Solar had installed 1,505 MW of solar capacity as of 2012.[9] Below are some of First Solar’s solar installations and development projects:

North America

  • 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obipso County, CA, under construction and acquired by MidAmerican Energy Holdings.[41]
  • 550 MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in Riverside County, CA, under construction and acquired by NextEra Energy and GE Energy Financial Services.[42]
  • 230 MW AV Solar Ranch One in Los Angeles, CA, under construction and acquired by Exelon Corp.[43]
  • 80 MW Sarnia Solar Farm in Ontario, Canada, completed, owned by Enbridge.[44]
  • 50 MW Silver State North, in Boulder County, NV, completed, acquired by Enbridge.[45]

Europe, Middle East and North Africa

  • Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, UAE, to include a 13 MW solar power plant in Seih Al Dahal built by First Solar for the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA).[46]
  • Stadtwerke Trier (SWT) in Trier, Germany, is one of the world’s largest thin-film solar plants. As of February 2009, it was estimated the facility would produce over 9 GWh per year, which would supply power to more than 2,400 homes each year. Additionally, it is estimated the facility will conserve 100,000 tons of CO
    over 20 years.[47]
  • Walkdpolenz Solar Park near Leipzig, Germany, is the largest thin-film PV power system in the world. Built and developed by Juwi Group, it has a capacity of 40MW. The facility became fully operational in 2008.
  • In December 2009, the Lieberose Solar Park, Germany’s biggest conversion land project (126 hectares) on a former military training area, was opened with an output of 53MW. The solar park uses 700,000 solar modules.[48]

Asia and Australia

  • 159 MW AGL Energy projects, to be constructed in Nyngan and Broken Hill, New South Wales.[51]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g [1], First Solar Annual Report for FY2012
  2. ^ Matthew Lynley (May 16, 2011). "Are solar panel manufacturing component prices falling fast enough?". GreenBeat. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 
  3. ^ Alex Hutchinson (February 26, 2009). "Solar Panel Drops to $1 per Watt: Is this a Milestone or the Bottom for Silicon-Based Panels?". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 
  4. ^ First Solar Reports Largest Quarterly Decline In CdTe Module Cost Per-Watt Since 2007, 7 November 2013
  5. ^ a b "First Solar Appoints James Hughes CEO". Retrieved May 4, 2012. 
  6. ^ "PVinsights announces worldwide 2010 top 10 ranking of PV module makers". 2010. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 
  7. ^ Anya Kamenetz (February 17, 2010). "Most Innovative Companies". Fast Company. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 
  8. ^ John J. Ray (February 16, 2011). "America's 25 Fastest-Growing Tech Companies". Forbes. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Solar Power World
  10. ^ Kanellos, Michael (November 6, 2007). "Fast-growing First Solar announces deals and plants | Green Tech – CNET News". Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  11. ^ "First Solar Sets World Record for CdTe Solar Cell Efficiency". FirstSolar. February 25, 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2014. 
  12. ^ "First Solar Sets Thin-Film Module Efficiency World Record of 17.0 Percent". FirstSolar. March 196, 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2014. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ D. H. Rose, October 1999, p. Viii (preface)
  15. ^ "First Solar annual manufacturing levels". 2008.
  16. ^ "First Solar Top Module Supplier, Ships 1-GW in 2009 | Renewable Energy News Article". May 6, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  17. ^ "First Solar to Produce Twice as Much as Leading Crystalline Solar Module Suppliers in 2009 – The IHS iSuppli®’s Photovoltaics portal offers the leading edge in solar research technology in addition to keeping you updated with the latest solar industry news. at iSuppli". September 4, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  18. ^ Nelson, Gary (March 18, 2011). "First Solar plans major manufacturing plant in SE Mesa". Arizona Republic. 
  19. ^ "Enbridge and First Solar complete Sarnia Solar Project". October 5, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  20. ^ a b "First Solar slashes forecast, staff & plans to flee subsidized markets". GigaOM. December 14, 2011. 
  21. ^ "First Solar Restructures Operations to Align With Sustainable Market Opportunities". Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  22. ^ Hsu, Tiffany (April 18, 2012). "First Solar to cut 2,000 jobs and close factory in Germany". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 18, 2012. 
  23. ^ "First Solar to Write off $150 Million as it Pulls Out of German Market". Retrieved April 18, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Slashed Subsidies Send Shivers Through European Solar Industry". The New York Times. March 31, 2010. 
  25. ^ [2]
  26. ^ Sweet, Cassandra; Chernova, Yuliya (December 15, 2011). "First Solar Revamps Amid Weak Market". The Wall Street Journal. 
  27. ^ Sweet, Cassandra; Chernova, Yuliya (December 15, 2011). "First Solar Revamps Amid Weak Market". The Wall Street Journal. 
  28. ^ [3]
  29. ^ Patrick O'Grady (November 3, 2011). "First Solar continues with Mesa facility, delays Vietnam production". Phoenix Business Journal. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ Nichola Groom (February 26, 2013). "First Solar fails to give '13 outlook, shares fall". Reuters. "First Solar Reports Record Sales in 4Q 2012, unveils 18.7% efficient solar PV cell". Solar Server Magazine. February 27, 2013. 
  32. ^ Matt Daily and Nichola Groom (August 4, 2011). "First Solar profit falls, cuts 2011 forecast". Reuters.  "First Solar Q3 Earnings Presentation". First Solar. November 1, 2012. 
  33. ^ Michael Kanellos (August 6, 2011). "Suntech Abandons Thin Film, Wafer Experiments". GreenTechSolar. 
  34. ^ a b First Solar Investors Conference Call, December 15, 2011
  35. ^ "First Solar Q3 Earnings Presentation". First Solar. November 1, 2012. 
  36. ^ "Interview: First Solar CEO James Hughes". December 13, 2012. Retrieved December 13, 2012. 
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ "First Solar’s 250 MW Agua Caliente is the World’s Largest Solar Plant". Greentech Solar. September 10, 2012. 
  41. ^ "MidAmerican Renewables buys 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm from First Solar – POWERGRID International/Electric Light & Power". Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  42. ^ "Semiconductor Today". Semiconductor Today. October 4, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  43. ^ "Semiconductor Today". Semiconductor Today. October 4, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  44. ^ "World's biggest solar project powers up in Canada". Reuters. October 4, 2010. 
  45. ^ "Salazar Activates First Solar Power Project on U.S. Land". BusinessWeek. May 7, 2012. 
  46. ^ "First Solar to Build 13MW Solar Power Plant for Dubai Electricity & Water Authority". October 18, 2012. 
  47. ^ [4]
  48. ^ "Leaders In Alternative Energy: Germany Turns On World's Biggest Solar Power Project – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International". Der Spiegel. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  49. ^ "juwi rüstet Stadion in Verona mit Photovoltaik-Anlage aus; bis 2012 PV-Anlagen mit insgesamt 2.500 Megawatt geplant". September 21, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  50. ^ "Hip hip array! First solar farm opens in WA". Brisbane Times. October 10, 2012. 
  51. ^ "AGL, First Solar to Build Australia's Largest Solar Project". Bloomberg. 

External links

  • Official website


  • "First Solar: Quest for the $1 Watt," IEEE Spectrum, August 2008
  • First Solar goes for reduction in manufacturing cost
  • First Solar adds 525 MW of module supply agreements.
  • First Solar Profit Soars on Rising Solar-Panel Sales
  • First Solar CEO to Speak at Renewable Energy Finance Forum-Wall Street
  • Managing director of First Solar GmbH speaks about developments in thin-film
  • First Solar Completes 2-MW Project for SCE and is Awarded Second Contract
  • First Solar's Bright Future – BusinessWeek
  • Expert Representative for Malaysia in the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power System (IEA PVPS) Task 13 (Performance and Reliability of PV systems) 2010 – 2014 by Pusat Tenaga Malaysia
  • First Solar Breaks Ground in Vietnam
  • First Solar Announces Massive Layoffs
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