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2 October 2007


First Solar adds third CdTe PV plant to Malaysia expansion

First Solar Inc of Phoenix, AZ, USA, which manufactures thin-film photovoltaic modules based on cadmium telluride, has decided to invest about $150m in building a third plant in Kulim Hi Tech Park in Kedah, Malaysia with an annual production capacity of 120MW (scheduled to start production in first-half 2009). The two adjacent plants already under construction will have a collective annual production capacity of 240MW. First Solar announced the first of the four-line solar module plants in January and broke ground in April (expecting completion by late 2007 and full volume production by end 2008).

First Solar was formed in 1999 and started commercial production in 2002 at its plant in Perrysburg, near Toledo, OH, USA. By 2005 the firm had improved the average conversion efficiency of its modules from 6% to 9%. This is still less than 12% for traditional crystalline silicon PV cells. However, its proprietary thin-film process technology greatly reduces raw material and manufacturing costs. Also, in an automated, continuous process, high-throughput production lines complete all manufacturing steps in just 2.5 hours (from deposition of a single-junction polycrystalline thin film less than 3µm thick - with CdTe as the absorption layer and CdS as the window layer - on 2 feet x 4 feet glass sheets to final assembly and testing of the complete module). Together, this has enabled First Solar in 2006 t o achieve the PV industry’s lowest cost per manufactured watt at a production scale of just 100MW ( less than $1/W, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory). Under real-world conditions, including variation in the ambient temperature and intensity of sunlight, systems incorporating First Solar modules typically generate more kilowatt hours of electricity per kilowatt of rated power than systems incorporating crystalline silicon solar modules, increasing return on investment, claims First Solar.

In November 2006, First Solar closed a $459m initial public offering on Nasdaq. T he firm has since used ‘continuous improvement’ methodologies and systematic ‘copy smart’ practices to replicate production lines with operating metrics comparable to the performance of the base plant, enabling it to expand total annual capacity rapidly from 25MW in 2005 to 210MW now with the inauguration in July of a new 120MW plant in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany costing €115m (aided by a German government grant of €45.5m) .

Also in July, First Solar closed a secondary offering of shares to fund further expansion in Malaysia and the associated production start-up and ramp-up costs. Together with the boosted Malaysia expansion, the firm’s total annual capacity should rise to 570MW by the end of 2009.

Production from the new plant in Malaysia will be used to meet additional demand from existing customers manufacturing solar energy systems , including Germany-based Blitzstrom GmbH, Conergy AG, Gehrlicher Umweltschonende Energiesysteme GmbH, Phoenix Solar AG, and Reinecke + Pohl Sun Energy AG, and from a new long-term contract with ASSYCE Fotovoltaica, a Spanish renewable energy project developer and system integrator focused on large-scale, grid-connected solar power plants. In July, First Solar signed contracts and contract extensions with these customers expanding sales volumes by a total of 625MW, equating to additional sales of about $1.1bn over 2007 to 2012. These customers are primarily targeting development of solar projects with First Solar modules in Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal.

“Our customers have demonstrated that they are among the best positioned in the industry to develop meaningful project pipelines for large ground and roof-mounted projects across the European Union ,” says First Solar’s CEO Mike Ahearn.

See related items:

SoloPower raises $30m in funding following $2.37m DoE grant award

Ascent Solar raises over $20m from warrant conversion

Emerging PV technologies growing at 43% annually

Thin-film solar cell equipment market to grow by almost 300%

Search: thin-film photovoltaic