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First Solar, Inc. is an American manufacturer of thin film photovoltaic (PV) modules, or solar panels, and a provider to PV power plants of supporting services that include finance, construction, maintenance and end-of-life panel recycling. First Solar uses cadmium telluride
Cadmium telluride
Cadmium telluride is a crystalline compound formed from cadmium and tellurium. It is used as an infrared optical window and a solar cell material. It is usually sandwiched with cadmium sulfide to form a p-n junction photovoltaic solar cell...

 (CdTe) as a semiconductor to produce panels that are less expensive than those manufactured from crystalline silicon
Polycrystalline silicon
Polycrystalline silicon, also called polysilicon, is a material consisting of small silicon crystals. It differs from single-crystal silicon, used for electronics and solar cells, and from amorphous silicon, used for thin film devices and solar cells....

. In 2009, First Solar became the first solar panel manufacturing company to lower its manufacturing cost to $1 per watt (since reduced to 74 cents per watt).

The company was founded in 1990 by inventor Harold McMaster
Harold McMaster
Harold A. McMaster was an inventor with over 100 patents and entrepreneur who founded four companies. Fortune Magazine called him "The Glass Genius". He also worked on developing commercial-scale solar cell technology, and developed a new type of engine, the "McMaster Rotary Engine."McMaster was...

 as Solar Cells, Inc. 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 Mike Ahearn, who succeeded Robert Gillette on October 25, 2011. First Solar is based in Tempe, Arizona
Tempe, Arizona
Tempe is a city in Maricopa County, Arizona, USA, with the Census Bureau reporting a 2010 population of 161,719. The city is named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece. Tempe is located in the East Valley section of metropolitan Phoenix; it is bordered by Phoenix and Guadalupe on the west, Scottsdale...

. As of 2010, First Solar was considered the second-largest maker of PV modules worldwide and ranked sixth in Fast Company
Fast Company (magazine)
Fast Company is a full-color business magazine that releases 10 issues per year and reports on topics including innovation, digital media, technology, change management, leadership, design, and social responsibility...

’s list of the world's 50 most innovative companies. In 2011, it ranked first on Forbes’s list of America’s 25 fastest-growing technology companies.

Technology


First Solar manufactures cadmium telluride
Cadmium telluride
Cadmium telluride is a crystalline compound formed from cadmium and tellurium. It is used as an infrared optical window and a solar cell material. It is usually sandwiched with cadmium sulfide to form a p-n junction photovoltaic solar cell...

 (CdTe)-based photovoltaic (PV) modules, which produce electricity with a thin CdTe film on glass.In July 2011, the company reached 17.3 percent efficiency, breaking the record set by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL.)

Corporate history


In 1984, inventor and entrepreneur Harold McMaster
Harold McMaster
Harold A. McMaster was an inventor with over 100 patents and entrepreneur who founded four companies. Fortune Magazine called him "The Glass Genius". He also worked on developing commercial-scale solar cell technology, and developed a new type of engine, the "McMaster Rotary Engine."McMaster was...

 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. In February 1999, McMaster sold the company to True North Partners, an investment arm of the Walton family
Walton family
The Walton Family is one of the richest families in the world, their wealth inherited from Bud and Sam Walton, founders of the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart. The five most prominent members The Walton Family is one of the richest families in the world, their wealth inherited from Bud and Sam...

, owners of Wal-Mart. John T. Walton
John T. Walton
John Thomas Walton was a decorated United States war veteran and a son of Walmart founder Sam Walton. He was also the chairman of True North Partners, a venture capital firm...

 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. At the end of 2009, First Solar had surpassed an annual production rate of one gigawatt (GW) and was the largest PV module manufacturer in the world.

The Company is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona
Tempe, Arizona
Tempe is a city in Maricopa County, Arizona, USA, with the Census Bureau reporting a 2010 population of 161,719. The city is named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece. Tempe is located in the East Valley section of metropolitan Phoenix; it is bordered by Phoenix and Guadalupe on the west, Scottsdale...

, has manufacturing facilities in Perrysburg, Ohio
Perrysburg, Ohio
As of the census of 2000, there were 16,945 people, 6,592 households, and 4,561 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,899.2 people per square mile . There were 6,964 housing units at an average density of 780.5 per square mile...

, Frankfurt (Oder), Germany
Frankfurt (Oder)
Frankfurt is a town in Brandenburg, Germany, located on the Oder River, on the German-Polish border directly opposite the town of Słubice which was a part of Frankfurt until 1945. At the end of the 1980s it reached a population peak with more than 87,000 inhabitants...

, and Kulim, Malaysia
Kulim
Kulim is the third largest town in Kedah after Alor Star and Sungai Petani is located at the South East of Kedah state and East of Penang state in Malaysia. Kulim is a district consist of 15 smaller sub-districts also known as "mukim"...

, and is in the process of building an additional manufacturing facility in Arizona. Additionally, First Solar partnered with natural gas
Natural gas
Natural gas is a naturally occurring gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, typically with 0–20% higher hydrocarbons . It is found associated with other hydrocarbon fuel, in coal beds, as methane clathrates, and is an important fuel source and a major feedstock for fertilizers.Most natural...

 provider Enbridge
Enbridge
Enbridge Inc. is a Calgary, Alberta based company focused on three core businesses: crude oil and liquids pipelines, natural gas transportation and distribution, and green energy. The company has approximately 6,000 employees, mostly in Canada and the United States...

 to build the largest PV solar energy farm in the world, located in Sarnia, Ontario
Sarnia, Ontario
Sarnia is a city in Southern Ontario, Canada . It is the largest city on Lake Huron and is located where the upper Great Lakes empty into the St. Clair River....

, 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. While continuing to provide modules sales and turnkey solar projects, as well as engineering, procurement, construction, and operations and maintenance services to its various customer segments, the new unit will support utility customers with an integrated, portfolio-based business model.

On October 25, 2011 the company announced that Rob Gillette would no longer serve as chief executive officer and was replaced, effective immediately by the founder, Mike Ahearn.

Market history


First Solar sells its products to solar project developers, system integrators
System integrator
A systems integrator is a person or company that specializes in bringing together component subsystems into a whole and ensuring that those subsystems function together, a practice known as System Integration...

, and independent power producers.
Independent Power Producer
An Independent Power Producer is an entity, which is not a public utility, but which owns facilities to generate electric power for sale to utilities and end users...

 Early sales were primarily in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 because of strong incentives for solar
PV financial incentives
Financial incentives for photovoltaics are incentives offered to electricity consumers to install and operate solar-electric generating systems, also known as photovoltaics . A government may offer incentives in order to encourage the PV industry to achieve the economies of scale needed to compete...

 enacted in the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) of 2000 (cp. Solar power in Germany
Solar power in Germany
Germany is one of the world's top photovoltaics installers, with a solar PV capacity as of May 2011 of more than 18,000 megawatts .The German solar PV industry installed 7,400 MW from nearly one-quarter million individual systems in 2010, and solar PV provided 12 TWh of electricity in 2010, about...

). Declines and uncertainty in feed-in-tariff subsidies for solar power in European markets, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, are prompting major PV manufacturers, such as First Solar, to accelerate their expansion into other markets, including the U.S., India and China.

First Solar’s manufacturing cost per watt reached $1.23 in 2007 and $1.08 in 2008.On February 24, 2009, the cost/watt ratio broke the $1 barrier, reaching $0.98 per watt. By 2011, its production cost had fallen to $0.74 per watt.

Production history


In 2010, the company had 24 production lines with 1,502 megawatts of manufacturing capacity. Each line had a 62.6-megawatt capacity. The first factory was built in Ohio, followed by a four-line manufacturing plant in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. In April 2007, First Solar announced the construction of an additional manufacturing plant in Kulim Hi-Tech Park, Malaysia, which was expanded to four plants in 2009. In October 2008, First Solar broke ground on an expansion of its Perrysburg, Ohio facility, completed in 2010, which brought First Solar's global annual production capacity to 1,228 MW.

In 2009, First Solar invested in two additional production plants in Malaysia, consisting of four manufacturing lines each. Additionally, in the summer of 2009, First Solar 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 announced postponing commissioning the Vietnam plant until new demand develops. With the announced expansions, First Solar will nearly double production capacity from 1.5 GW in 2010 to 2.8 GW in 2012, based on anticipated line run rates.
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 63.1 MW (est) 70 MW (est)
USA 25 MW 100 MW 132 MW 143 MW 160 MW 250 MW 252 MW 560 MW
Germany - - 176 MW 191 MW 214 MW 250 MW 505 MW 560 MW
Malaysia - - - 382 MW 854 MW 1002 MW 1514 MW 1680 MW
Total Capacity 25 MW 100 MW 308 MW 716 MW 1228 MW 1502 MW 2271 MW 2800 MW

(Source: First Solar Financial Report for Quarter 3 2011)

Market performance


First Solar earned $664.2 million, or $7.68 per share, in fiscal year 2010. Profits have shrunk significantly in 2011, falling to $61.1 million during the second quarter of 2011, but rising to $196.5 million in the third quarter. The rapidly falling prices for solar modules, higher costs, and uncertainty over European subsidies for renewable energy, are thought to be key factors in the company’s drop in profits.

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 has allowed it to achieve a significantly lower price point ($0.75 per watt), compared to crystalline-silicon PV, which averaged $1.85 per watt in 2010. This is expected to be challenged as the global price of solar modules continues to fall. As of June 2011, the global price of modules had fallen to $1.40 per watt on average, and some analysts predict it could drop as low as $1.10 per watt in the near future.

Grid parity



First Solar has indicated that its manufacturing cost has fallen in Q4 2010 to 75 cents per watt. By 2014, it expects to drive down cost per watt to make solar modules to between 52 and 63 cents. The biggest driver of the lower costs is better efficiency.

Installations


Below is a partial list of First Solar’s solar installations and development projects:

Europe and North Africa:
  1. 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 CO2 over 20 years.
  2. Walkdpolenz Solar Park near Leipzig, Germany, is the world’s 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.
  3. 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.
  4. For the Sports Stadium Bentegodi, First Solar supplied more than 13,000 thin film modules for a rooftop installation in Verona, Italy.




North America
  1. 10 MW El Dorado Solar Power Plant
    El Dorado Solar Power Plant
    The 10 megawatt El Dorado Solar Power Plant is a photovoltaic facility located in Boulder City, Nevada, completed in 2008.The power from El Dorado Solar Power Plant has been sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under separate 20-year contracts.-See also:* List of concentrating solar thermal power...

     in Boulder City, NV, developed by Sempra Generation, covering 88 acres. Construction began in July 2008 and the plant is owned and operated by Sempra. In April 2009, it was announced that Sempra and First Solar would construct a 48MW Copper Mountain expansion to the facility. Once the expansion is completed in early 2011, the total facility will be able to power approximately 30,000 homes.
  2. 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obipso County CA, under a power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric Company.




Asia and Australia
  1. 2,000 MW (2GW) solar plant Memorandum of Agreement signed to build solar plant in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia, China.




Because cadmium is a toxic material, First Solar has implemented PV module recycling programs and is sold in Europe under an EU Council RoHS exception.

See also

  • Cadmium telluride photovoltaics
    Cadmium telluride photovoltaics
    Cadmium telluride photovoltaics describes a photovoltaic technology that is based on the use of cadmium telluride thin film, a semiconductor layer designed to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity...

  • Copper indium gallium selenide
    Copper indium gallium selenide
    Copper indium gallium selenide is a I-III-VI2 semiconductor material composed of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium. The material is a solid solution of copper indium selenide and copper gallium selenide...

     (CIGS)
  • International Electrotechnical Commission
    International Electrotechnical Commission
    The International Electrotechnical Commission is a non-profit, non-governmental international standards organization that prepares and publishes International Standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies – collectively known as "electrotechnology"...

     (IEC)
  • Renewable energy companies on the stock exchange
  • Nanosolar
    Nanosolar
    Nanosolar is a developer of solar power technology. Based in San Jose, CA, Nanosolar has developed and commercialized a low-cost printable solar cell manufacturing process. The company started selling panels mid-December 2007, and plans to sell them at around $1 per watt...

  • GroupSat Solar
  • Photovoltaic power stations
  • Prometheus Institute
  • Sharp Solar
    Sharp Solar
    Sharp Solar produces thin film modules and mono and poly-crystalline silicon solar cells. Sharp's photovoltaic modules are used for many applications, from satellites to lighthouses, and industrial applications to residential use. Sharp began researching solar cells in 1959 with mass production...

  • SolarCity
    SolarCity
    SolarCity is an American provider of solar energy system design, financing, installation and related services and also builds charging stations for electric vehicles....

     (First Solar leader)
  • Solar power in Germany
    Solar power in Germany
    Germany is one of the world's top photovoltaics installers, with a solar PV capacity as of May 2011 of more than 18,000 megawatts .The German solar PV industry installed 7,400 MW from nearly one-quarter million individual systems in 2010, and solar PV provided 12 TWh of electricity in 2010, about...

  • Underwriters Laboratories
    Underwriters Laboratories
    Underwriters Laboratories Inc. is an independent product safety certification organization. Established in 1894, the company has its headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois. UL develops standards and test procedures for products, materials, components, assemblies, tools and equipment, chiefly dealing...

     (UL)
  • 5N Plus Inc.
    5N Plus Inc.
    5N Plus is a Canadian producer of high-purity metals and compounds for electronic applications best known as the major supplier of Cadmium Telluride to First Solar. 5N Plus is headquartered in Saint-Laurent, Québec, Canada.- Overview :...


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