9 June 2021
First Solar to invest $680m in expanding US PV manufacturing capacity by 3.3GW to 6GW
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module maker First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA says that it is investing $680m to expand US domestic photovoltaic (PV) solar manufacturing capacity by 3.3GWDC annually, representing an implied capital expenditure of about $0.20 per watt. The firm intends to fund construction of its third US manufacturing facility (in Lake Township, Ohio) with existing cash resources.
Contigent upon permitting and pending approval of various state, regional and local incentives, the new facility is expected to commence operations in first-half 2023. It is projected to achieve its throughput entitlement (modules produced per day) by the end of the same year with over 3GWDC of nameplate capacity, and is expected to attain full nameplate capacity, based on the firm’s module efficiency roadmap, in 2025. When fully operational, the facility will 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 of China. (In addition to its Ohio manufacturing facilities, First Solar also operates factories in Vietnam and Malaysia.)
“These investments in American-made solar technologies are the perfect embodiment of President Biden’s strategy to build out domestic manufacturing and supply chains for critical industries,” says US Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm. “As a partner to our solar program since 2003 and a DOE [Department of Energy] loan guarantee recipient in 2012, this company is a great example of how investment and innovation can build the clean energy future right here at home — shoring up American competitiveness,” she adds.
Unique among the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers for being the only US-headquartered company and for not using crystalline silicon (c-Si), First Solar produces its ultra-low-carbon thin-film PV modules using a fully integrated, continuous process under one roof.
The 1.8 million square foot facility is projected to directly create about 500 jobs and 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 from this new facility, when available, 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.
“We stand ready to support President Biden’s goal to transition America to a clean, energy-secure future, and our decision to more than double our US manufacturing capacity with this new facility is First Solar making good on that commitment,” says CEO Mark Widmar. “This facility will represent a significant leap forward in photovoltaics manufacturing... It will leverage our advantaged position at the intersection of efficiency, energy yield, optimized form factor, and cost competitiveness, while leading our manufacturing fleet in delivering the highest efficiency and wattage, and the lowest cost per watt.”
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 once it achieves its full production capacity. The facility 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.
“While designing and building this factory of the future we’re challenging ourselves to focus on the continuous improvement of our throughput, quality and safety through automation,” says chief manufacturing operations officer Mike Koralewski. “We see this as an opportunity for our associates to upskill, learn new technologies, continue to grow and develop themselves as our factories and products continually evolve.”
First Solar continues to evaluate opportunities to further expand its global manufacturing footprint. “Looking forward, strong demand for Series 6, a compelling technology roadmap, a strong balance sheet, and a largely fixed operating expense cost structure, are each catalysts as we evaluate the potential for future capacity expansion,” Widmar notes. “While we have made no such decisions at this time, we are continuing to evaluate the potential for further domestic and international expansion.”