30 August 2022
First Solar investing $1.2bn to scale up production of US-made PV modules by 4.4GW
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module maker First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA plans to invest up to $1.2bn in scaling production of American-made photovoltaic (PV) solar modules, supporting the USA’s transition to a decarbonized future. The investment is forecasted to expand the firm’s ability to produce American-made modules for the US solar market to over 10GWDC by 2025.
As part of its push to scale US production of solar modules, the firm intends to build its fourth, fully vertically integrated domestic factory, with an annual capacity of 3.5GWDC, in the US Southeast. First Solar (the only US-headquartered company among the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers) expects to invest up to $1bn in the new factory, which (contingent upon permitting and pending approval of various federal, state, regional and local incentives) is expected to commence operations in 2025.
Additionally, the firm will invest $185m in upgrading and expanding its Northwest Ohio manufacturing footprint (currently the largest vertically integrated complex of its kind in the Western Hemisphere) by 0.9GWDC. As part of its plans, First Solar will invest in expanding the capacity of its two operating facilities in Perrysburg and Lake Township, Ohio, by 0.6GWDC to 3.6GWDC of annual Series 6 module capacity. The firm will also expand its third Ohio factory (which is expected to be commissioned in first-half 2023) to 3.5GWDC of annual Series 7 module capacity. The expansion will increase First Solar’s total investment in its Ohio manufacturing facilities to over $3bn, with a cumulative annual production capacity of over 7GWDC by 2025.
First Solar estimates that the new investment will add at least 850 new manufacturing jobs, taking its total number of direct jobs in the USA to over 3000 people in four states by 2025 (believed to make it the largest employer in the American solar manufacturing sector). By 2025, First Solar is also expected to support an estimated 15,000 indirect and induced jobs as a result of its ongoing and future manufacturing operations.
“In passing the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration has entrusted our industry with the responsibility of enabling America’s clean energy future and we must meet the moment in a manner that is both timely and sustainable,” says CEO Mark Widmar. “This investment is an important step towards achieving self-sufficiency in solar technology which, in turn, supports America’s energy security ambitions, its deployment of solar at scale, and its ability to lead with innovation,” he adds. “Our manufacturing presence in the US is expected to directly and indirectly support over 18,000 jobs across the country by 2025, while our manufacturing investment will add an estimated $3.2bn in value to the US economy, reflecting the impact of solar manufacturing on our country.”
On its last earnings call on 28 July, First Solar announced a record bookings backlog of 44.3GWDC. The firm has seen demand for its thin-film photovoltaic solar modules driven by its ability to provide long-term supply certainty, lower political and compliance risk, and access to its best available technology through its agile contracting approach.
“While we have made no decisions at this time, we continue to evaluate further investments in incremental capacity and could announce further expansion plans in the future,” notes Widmar. “Any such decision would be developed on a solid foundation of strong demand, a repeatable vertically integrated manufacturing template, a proven technology platform, and a robust balance sheet.”
Designed and developed at its R&D centers in California and Ohio, First Solar’s thin-film PV modules are claimed to set industry benchmarks for quality, durability, reliability, design and environmental performance. The company continues to optimize the amount of semiconductor material used by enhancing its vapor deposition process through continued investment in R&D focused on more efficient module technology with a thinner semiconductor layer. First Solar also operates a recycling program that provides closed-loop semiconductor recovery for use in new modules.
In addition to its Ohio manufacturing facilities, First Solar also operates factories in Vietnam and Malaysia, and is building its first new manufacturing facility in India (with a capacity of 3.3GW), which is scheduled to begin operations in second-half 2023. On completion of its expansion plans in the USA and India, the firm expects to have over 20GWDC of annual global manufacturing capacity in 2025.