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First Solar forecasts sales boom in 2024

05 Mar 2024

Maker of cadmium telluride panels set to take advantage of additional capacity, with further expansion under way.

First Solar, the US-headquartered manufacturer of solar modules based on thin-film cadmium telluride photovoltaic material, says it is expecting close to a 35 per cent increase in sales this year as it continues to ramp up production volumes.

The Tempe, Arizona, company has just posted sales revenues of $3.3 billion for 2023, including $1.2 billion for the closing quarter of the year.

That run-rate is expected to continue through the current year, with CEO Mark Widmar and his executive team forecasting that the 2024 total will end up somewhere between $4.4 billion and $4.6 billion.

However, he also warned that policymakers needed to take more action against imports of cheap Chinese solar modules that have flooded markets, depressing prices and jeopardizing efforts to support domestic production in the US, Europe, and India.

2023 significance
Noting that February represented 25 years since the firm was founded, Widmar told an investor call discussing the latest results:

“While we're not the only American solar manufacturer to come into existence at the end of the last century, we are the only one at scale to remain today.”

Widmar added that few years in that history had been as significant as 2023, during which the firm expanded manufacturing capacity both in the US and India, announced a new facility in Louisiana, and shipped a record volume of modules.

“From a manufacturing perspective, we produced a record 12.1 gigawatts in 2023, representing a 33 per cent increase in production over 2022,” he said. “As a result, we have now surpassed 60 gigawatts of cumulative production since we first began commercial manufacturing in 2002.”

This year should see a significant further uptick in production, with First Solar expecting to sell enough modules to produce a peak output of 16 GW, up from 11.4 GW last year.

25 GW nameplate in 2026
With the anticipated further ramps in production over the next few years, the company is expecting to reach a nameplate capacity of 25 GW by the end of 2026 - more than double the record-breaking total for 2023.

That ramp should be achieved through another new facility in Alabama and an expanded output at First Solar’s existing Ohio site, both of which are in progress.

The US expansions, made possible with assistance via the CHIPS and Science Act, mean that around 14 GW can be produced domestically from 2027 onwards, with a further 11 GW manufactured internationally.

What could turn out to be another key move by the company last year was its $80 million acquisition of the Sweden-based perovskite solar startup Evolar.

Widmar said that the Evolar facility now represented the parent company’s first European research and development facility.

“We continue to invest in our technology with our R&D innovation center and our perovskite development line, both under construction in Ohio,” Widmar said. “These facilities are expected to commence operations in the first half and second half of 2024, respectively.”

Chinese oversupply
Commenting on the wider market conditions, the CEO said that First Solar was still able to compete strongly despite the continued state subsidization of its rivals in China, and their so-called “dumping” business practices that have driven the price of solar cells and modules to an all-time low.

“Last month Meyer Burger, a European module and cell manufacturer, announced that deteriorating market conditions in Europe resulting from such practices is forcing them to prepare for shuttering module assembly in Germany, exemplifying the challenges to the European Union’s stated goal of creating a self-sustaining renewable manufacturing industry,” Widmar observed.

Meanwhile in India, authorities are struggling to address Chinese supply chain imports, distorting market pricing in the country and disincentivizing an ambition to create a broader domestic offering in India.

There is a similar problem in the US, where despite moves by the Department of Commerce there is still a record number of cell and module imports from southeast Asia that poses a threat to the Biden administration's ambitions of scaling a domestic photovoltaics manufacturing base.

“In light of the current and forecasted state of oversupply in these markets and the resulting headwinds to the ability of domestic manufacturers to scale, we call upon governments and policymakers to either reinforce the measures already enacted, or move expeditiously to take action,” stated the First Solar CEO.

“Such measures require addressing loopholes in trade policies that create the current situation, where an oversupply of Chinese modules is being sold at artificially low prices as well - as the harmful impacts of the use of forced labor.”

• Following the latest update, First Solar’s Nasdaq-listed stock price ticked up in value and is currently trading at around $156 - equivalent to a market capitalization of around $17 billion.

Mad City Labs, Inc.Iridian Spectral TechnologiesTRIOPTICS GmbHHyperion OpticsFirst Light ImagingUniverse Kogaku America Inc.CHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.
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