18 August 2021
First Solar breaks ground on $680m, 3.3GW Ohio manufacturing facility
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module maker First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA has broken ground on its third manufacturing facility in Ohio at a ceremony attended by United States Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio Jon Husted, and US Representatives Bob Latta and Marcy Kaptur.
Picture: First Solar breaks ground on its third manufacturing facility in Ohio. Pictured (left to right) are Rudolph Libbe’s CEO Tim Alter, US Representative Marcy Kaptur, the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio Jon Husted, First Solar’s CEO Mark Widmar, US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, and US Representative Bob Latta.
Scheduled to commence operations in first-half 2023, the new 3.3GWDC facility represents a $680m investment. When fully operational, it is expected to scale the company’s Northwest Ohio footprint to a total annual capacity of 6GWDC, which is believed to make it the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside China.
The facility is forecast to create over 700 permanent jobs in addition to the more than 1600 people that First Solar currently employs in Ohio. Founded in 1999, First Solar has had a manufacturing presence in the state since it began commercial production at its original Perrysburg factory in 2002, when it produced 1.5MWDC of modules and employed 150 people. Since then it has invested over $2bn in expanding its Ohio manufacturing presence, making the state home to the largest photovoltaic solar manufacturing footprint in the Western Hemisphere when it commissioned its second factory in 2019.
“We offer a great business environment, workforce and the resources to build a domestic solar energy competitor in a market dominated by Chinese imports,” says Husted, Lieutenant Governor of Ohio.
“It’s essential that we support American-made energy companies like First Solar, which are competing with Chinese solar panel manufacturers for market share in the renewable energy space,” comments Latta, US Secretary of Labor.
First Solar says that, unique among the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers for being the only US-headquartered company, for not using crystalline silicon (c-Si), and for not manufacturing in China (and not relying on that country’s c-Si supply chains), it produces its thin-film PV modules using a fully integrated, continuous process under one roof. The company claims that its eco-efficient CdTe module technology has the lowest carbon and water footprints of any PV module available.
After it achieves its full production capacity, the facility will allow First Solar to produce an anticipated average of one module roughly every 2.75 seconds across its three-factory Ohio footprint. It will combine highly skilled workers with Industry 4.0 architecture, machine-to-machine communication, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things connectivity to produce a higher degree of automation, precision, and continuous improvement.
“We’re leading the efforts to revitalize American solar manufacturing and secure critical clean energy supply chains because reliable access to competitive, efficient solar panels is essential to our country’s future,” states First Solar’s CEO Mark Widmar. “Solar panels are the next crude oil, and we cannot be beholden to adversarial nations for our supply,” he adds. “We’re scaling US cleantech innovation by investing in R&D, ensuring that a uniquely American solar technology that was developed right here in Ohio remains competitively advantaged. And we’re taking it a step further by producing the next generation of solar panels designed and made in the USA for the American solar industry.”
The 1.8 million square-foot facility is expected to produce an enhanced thin-film PV module for the utility-scale solar market in the USA, which is anticipated to have a higher efficiency and wattage in a larger form factor. The additional production capacity is also expected to help mitigate the challenges currently being experienced in the global ocean freight market, by reducing the transoceanic gap between international supply and domestic demand.
The new facility will be constructed by Rudolph Libbe Inc and is expected to create 500 construction jobs for union tradespeople in Northwest Ohio over the next 18 months.