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First Solar to build fifth US factory

02 Aug 2023

US module maker to spend $1.1BN on new domestic manufacturing site scheduled to begin production within three years.

The major photovoltaic module maker First Solar has revealed plans to build another manufacturing facility in the US - the fifth in its home country.

Costing an anticipated $1.1 billion, the new site is expected to be up and running in the first half of 2026, and will produce the firm’s “Series 7” cadmium telluride (CdTe) modules.

The announcement is the latest in a major expansion of the firm’s US manufacturing footprint, partly facilitated by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), with a new facility in Ohio completed, and another in Alabama under construction.

Bifacial panels
Revealing news of the planned expansion alongside the firm’s latest financial results, First Solar’s CEO Mark Widmar said that the additional investment would put it on track to a production capacity of 25 GW globally by 2026 - of which 14 GW would be in the US.

Widmar added that the new Ohio factory had produced a total of 425 MW in the second quarter, with the best-performing Series 7 modules now producing a maximum output of 540 W - equivalent to an efficiency of 19.3 per cent.

“We sold 215 MW of Series 7 modules in Q2 and are pleased to note that the product is already being deployed in three projects: in Arkansas, Arizona, and Mississippi,” he said.

Meanwhile, First Solar is making a number of moves to increase PV module efficiency with technological advances including the future incorporation of perovskite and cadmium indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) layers in tandem cell designs.

Widmar pointed out that the latest quarter saw an initial production run of the firm’s first bifacial module panels, which utilize what he called an advanced thin-film semiconductor.

“The bifacial model features an innovative transparent back contact,” explained the CEO. “Pioneered by First Solar's research and development team, the transparent back contact, in addition to enabling bifacial energy gains, allows infrared wavelengths of light to pass through rather than be absorbed as heat.

“This is expected to lower the operational temperature of the bifacial module, resulting in higher specific energy yield. We believe that the transparent back contact is a foundational step toward the development of future tandem products.”

Perovskite possibilities
Widmar also commented on the firm’s recent acquisition of Sweden’s Evolar, which has expertise in both perovskite and CIGS technology, and is expected to accelerate First Solar’s development of tandem devices offering potentially much higher module efficiencies.

Discussing the deal with investors, he said: “Efficiency is obviously important, but you also need something that's stable. And perovskite, in general, has historically had issues and challenges with trying to demonstrate long-term durable stable devices.”

Regarding CIGS, Widmar said Evolar had “very deep” capabilities, having demonstrated efficiencies greater than 23 per cent.

“We think that there's a potential for a [thin-film CIGS] tandem technology that can get to market sooner than maybe perovskites can at this point in time.”

First Solar’s stock price was little-changed after the latest results showed that the company had posted a net income of $170 million on sales of $811 million in the three months ending June 30 - with both figures up strongly on the same period last year.

“With half of 2023 behind us, we continue to see strengthened commercial, operational, and financial foundations, both in 2023 and in the coming years as we continue to grow,” observed Widmar.

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