- First Solar's recently-announced 3.3 GW factory in Ohio will support efficient production of a next generation module that will "lead the fleet in terms of efficiency, module wattage, cost per watt and environmental footprint," CEO Mark Widmar said on the company's second quarter earnings call last week.
- The Arizona-based company also plans to add 3.3 GW of manufacturing capacity in India, Widmar said. That factory will allow the company to take advantage of clean energy incentives, cost-competitive labor and be located near a burgeoning solar market.
- Overall, net sales in the second quarter were $629 million, down $174 million from the first quarter. The module segment saw revenue rise from $535 million last quarter to $543 million this quarter, with a slight increase in gross margins despite delays in module deliveries.
First Solar is the country's largest domestic solar panel manufacturer. The new Ohio plant, announced in June, would bring the company's annual production capability to 6 GWdc in the state, creating what is believed to be the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside of China, according to First Solar.
With an expected launch in 2023, Widmar said the $680 million plant will enable First Solar to "develop a new product at the intersection of efficiency, energy yield, optimized form factor, cost competitiveness and advantaged environmental attributes."
The company specializes in a thin-film cadmium-telluride (CadTel) module that it says can deliver more usable energy per nameplate watt than others on the market. Recent testing by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported a 19.2% glass area efficiency for the CadTel module, which Widmar said on the earnings call represented a world record. Widmar said First Solar has developed prototypes for early stage bifacial modules, which increase energy production by generating power from both sides of the panel.
First Solar's plans for the new Ohio plant were touted by the Biden administration, with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm calling it "the perfect embodiment of President Biden's strategy to build out domestic manufacturing and supply chains for critical industries" in a statement. Clean energy boosters have sought to increase domestic manufacturing of solar panels to diminish the country's reliance on China, although building up the base has been slower than expected.
Chief Financial Officer Alex Bradley also said the new Ohio factory will increase First Solar's gross margin by between 1 and 3 cents per watt relative to the existing fleet.
Widmar also said First Solar will expand its international manufacturing, investing approximately $680 million in a plant in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu due to come online in the second half of 2023. India has announced new incentives for solar panel manufacturers that First Solar is seeking to take advantage of, and establishing a manufacturing base there will allow the company to avoid solar tariffs scheduled to start in April 2022, Widmar said.
So far in 2021, First Solar has global net bookings of 9 GWdc, up 4.1 GWdc since the last earnings call and already exceeding the company's previous 7.7 GWdc record set in 2017. While sales dropped in 2020, largely due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and bookings are "essentially flat" from 2022 to 2023, Widmar said there's as many as 10 GW in the pipeline.
"We are still somewhat capacity constrained even with the two new factories," he said on the call. "I think we're going to have a very strong second half of this year to help start booking out 2023 and 2024."