First Solar

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First Solar, Inc.
S&P 400 Component
Founded1999 (as First Solar Holdings, LLC)
Key people
Michael J. Ahearn, Chairman of Supervisory board, Mark Widmar, CEO
RevenueIncrease US$3.58 billion (FY 2015)
Increase US$516.66 million (FY 2015) [1]
Increase US$546.42 million (FY 2015)
Total assetsIncrease US$7.32 billion (FY 2015)
Total equityIncrease US$5.55 billion (FY 2015
OwnerLukas Walton (21.5%) [2]
Number of employees
6,400[3] (2020)

First Solar, Inc. is an American manufacturer of solar panels, and a provider of utility-scale PV power plants and supporting services that include finance, construction, maintenance and end-of-life panel recycling. First Solar uses rigid thin-film modules for its solar panels, and produces CdTe panels using cadmium telluride (CdTe) as a semiconductor.[4] The company was founded in 1990 by inventor Harold McMaster as Solar Cells, Inc. and the Florida Corporation in 1993 with JD Polk. In 1999 it was purchased by True North Partners, LLC, who rebranded it as First Solar, Inc.

The company went public in 2006, trading on the NASDAQ. Its current chief executive is Mark Widmar, who succeeded the previous CEO James Hughes July 1, 2016.[5] First Solar is based in Tempe, Arizona.

In 2009, First Solar became the first solar panel manufacturing company to lower its manufacturing cost to $1 per watt.[6] As of 2010, First Solar was considered the second-largest maker of PV modules worldwide[7] and ranked sixth in Fast Company's list of the world's 50 most innovative companies.[8]

In 2011, it ranked first on Forbes's list of America's 25 fastest-growing technology companies.[9] It is listed on the Photovoltaik Global 30 Index since the beginning of this stock index in 2009. The company was also listed as No. 1 in Solar Power World magazine's 2012 and 2013 rankings of solar contractors.[10]


First Solar manufactures cadmium telluride (CdTe)-based photovoltaic (PV) modules, which produce electricity with a thin CdTe film on glass.[11][4]

In 2013, the company produced CdTe-panels with an efficiency of about 14 percent at a reported cost of 59 cents per watt.[12] In August 2019, researchers from NREL and First Solar published a Nature Energy article demonstrating a way to achieve 20.8% solar cell efficiency.[13][14]


In 1984, inventor and entrepreneur Harold McMaster founded Glasstech Solar. After trying amorphous silicon, he shifted to CdTe and founded Solar Cells, Inc. (SCI) in 1990.[15] In February 1999, SCI was acquired by True North Partners, which then formed First Solar, LLC.[16][17]

At the end of 2009, First Solar had surpassed an energy power production rate of 1 GW[18] and was the largest producer of PV cells in the world.[19]

The company is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona and has manufacturing facilities in Perrysburg, Ohio and Kulim, Malaysia.[20]

In July 2010, First Solar formed a utility systems business group to address the large-scale PV systems solutions market. Utility systems are now the company's core business focus, with a strategy to focus on markets that do not require subsidies to support the solar generation business.[21]

On April 17, 2012, First Solar announced it would restructure operations worldwide. This restructuring process included phasing out operations in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany and idling four production lines in Kulim, Malaysia.[22] 30% of First Solar's workforce was laid off as a result of these actions, which were blamed on market volatility and reduced demand.[23] Mark Widmar, the CFO of First Solar, said, "We need to resize our business to a level of demand that is highly reliable and predictable."[24]

On July 1, 2016 Mark Widmar was appointed CEO of First Solar. Previously he had been Chief Financial Officer. Company founder and former CEO Mike Ahearn remains Chairman of the Board.[5]

Market history[edit]

Historically, First Solar sold its products to solar project developers, system integrators, and independent power producers. Early sales were primarily in Germany because of strong incentives for solar enacted in the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) of 2000 (cp. Solar power in Germany).[citation needed] Declines and uncertainty in feed-in-tariff subsidies for solar power in European markets, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain,[25] prompted major PV manufacturers, such as First Solar, to accelerate their expansion into other markets, including the U.S., India and China.[26]

Beginning in December 2011, First Solar shifted away from existing markets that are heavily dependent on government subsidies and toward providing utility-scale PV systems in sustainable markets with immediate need.[27] As a result, it now competes against conventional power generators,[28] and has reduced its focus on the rooftop market.[21]

On February 24, 2009, First Solar's cost per watt broke the $1 barrier, reaching $0.98. Production cost has continued to fall and in February 2013, reached $0.68 per watt.[29]

Production history[edit]

In 2019, the company was expected to pass annual shipments of panels for 5,400 MWp. Production started in Perrysburg, Ohio, expanded in 2010.[30] Between 2007 and 2012, production grew in additional plants in Frankfurt (Oder) in Germany, in Kulim Hi-Tech Park in Malaysia and in France. Other locations considered for expansions before 2012 were Vietnam[31] and Mesa, AZ.[32]

Country 2005 Capacity 2007 Capacity 2008 Capacity 2011 Capacity 2012 Capacity 2015 Capacity 2019 shipments (guidance)
Line capacity 25 MW 44 MW 48 MW 66 MW 70 MW (est)
USA 25 MW 132 MW 143 MW 264 MW 280 MW
Germany 176 MW 191 MW 528 MW 220 MW (est)
Malaysia 382 MW 1584 MW 1400 MW
Total Capacity 25 MW 308 MW 716 MW 2376 MW[33] 1900 MW[34] 2700 MW[35] ~5500 MW[36]

Market performance[edit]

While First Solar witnessed record sales of over $3.37 billion in 2012, its restructuring efforts impacted the bottom line, leading to a net loss of $96.3 million – or $1.11 per share – for the year.[37]

Historically, the low cost of First Solar's modules has been the key to its market performance. The use of cadmium telluride instead of silicon allowed it to achieve a significantly lower module cost ($0.67 per watt),[38] compared to crystalline-silicon PV, which averaged $1.85 per watt in 2010.[39]

As the company shifts its focus away from module sales to utility-scale projects, it will need to become price competitive with non-solar power sources, a move which its executives say will require the company to reduce manufacturing costs and optimize efficiency.[40]

Grid parity[edit]

In November 2012, First Solar announced that its manufacturing cost had fallen to 67 cents per watt, a 6-cent decrease from February 2012.[41] By 2015, it expects to drive down cost per watt to make solar modules to between 52 and 54 cents. The biggest driver of the lower costs is better efficiency.[40]

In a December 2012 RenewEconomy interview with First Solar CEO James Hughes,[42] he made the following comments regarding Grid parity:

Everyone wants to talk about "grid parity" – I've banned that phrase from the lexicon of First Solar. Electricity has value only at a point in time and a geographic place . There is no magic number that describes the true economic cost of electricity. You may have a tariff structure that describes it that way, but that is not the reality, and frankly, sophisticated power markets don't operate like that. So you have to look at time of day, season and location to determine the true cost of power, and there are lots of times of day, seasons and locations where solar is economic today without subsidy. So our focus is to find those places, find those times of day, and find those market structures where we can apply ourselves.


First Solar had installed 1,505 MW of solar capacity as of 2012.[10] As of 2019, First Solar has over 17GW deployed globally.[43] Below are some of First Solar's solar installations and development projects:

North America[edit]

Europe, Middle East, and North Africa[edit]

  • Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Saih Al-Dahal, UAE, includes a 13 MWDC solar power plant built by First Solar for the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA).[51]
  • Stadtwerke Trier (SWT) in Trier, Germany, is one of the world's largest thin-film solar plants. As of February 2009, it was estimated the facility would produce over 9 GWh per year, which would supply power to more than 2,400 homes each year. Additionally, it is estimated the facility will conserve 100,000 tons of CO2 over 20 years.[52]
  • The Ramat Hovav solar field is the largest PV power plant built so far in Israel's solar power sector. Constructed by Belectric over a previous evaporation pond, it has a nominal capacity of 37.5 MW. The facility became fully operational in December 2014.[53]
  • Waldpolenz Solar Park near Leipzig, Germany, was built and developed by Juwi Group, and has a capacity of 40 MW. The facility became fully operational in 2008.
  • In December 2009, the Lieberose Photovoltaic Park, Germany's biggest conversion land project (126 hectares) on a former military training area, was opened with an output of 53 MW. The solar park uses 700,000 solar modules.[54]
  • For the Sports Stadium Bentegodi in Verona, Italy, First Solar supplied more than 13,000 thin film modules for a rooftop installation.[55]

Asia and Australia[edit]

  • 10 MW Greenough River Solar Farm in Western Australia, completed for Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services.[56]
  • 159 MW AGL Energy projects, to be constructed in Nyngan and Broken Hill, New South Wales.[57] The 53 MW Broken Hill project was completed in 2015.[58]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "First Solar 10-K report 2015". Securities and Exchange Commission. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  2. ^ 2018 proxy statement filed with the SEC
  3. ^ "First Solar". Fortune. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Matthew Lynley (May 16, 2011). "Are solar panel manufacturing component prices falling fast enough?". GreenBeat. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  5. ^ a b "First Solar Appoints James Hughes CEO". Archived from the original on May 13, 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2012.
  6. ^ Alex Hutchinson (February 26, 2009). "Solar Panel Drops to $1 per Watt: Is this a Milestone or the Bottom for Silicon-Based Panels?". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  7. ^ "PVinsights announces worldwide 2010 top 10 ranking of PV module makers". 2010. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  8. ^ Anya Kamenetz (February 17, 2010). "Most Innovative Companies". Fast Company. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  9. ^ John J. Ray (February 16, 2011). "America's 25 Fastest-Growing Tech Companies". Forbes. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  10. ^ a b Solar Power World
  11. ^ Kanellos, Michael (November 6, 2007). "Fast-growing First Solar announces deals and plants | Green Tech – CNET News". Archived from the original on August 13, 2012. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  12. ^ "First Solar Reports Largest Quarterly Decline In CdTe Module Cost Per-Watt Since 2007". November 7, 2013.
  13. ^ "NREL, First Solar Collaboration Improves Thin-Film Solar Cells | News | NREL". Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  14. ^ Metzger, W. K.; Grover, S.; Lu, D.; Colegrove, E.; Moseley, J.; Perkins, C. L.; Li, X.; Mallick, R.; Zhang, W.; Malik, R.; Kephart, J. (August 19, 2019). "Exceeding 20% efficiency with in situ group V doping in polycrystalline CdTe solar cells". Nature Energy. 4 (10): 837–845. doi:10.1038/s41560-019-0446-7. ISSN 2058-7546. S2CID 201101743.
  15. ^ "McMaster to join hall of fame". April 29, 2008. Archived from the original on June 7, 2008. Retrieved June 7, 2008.
  16. ^ "First Solar: A Key Player in the Global Solar Power Industry". Market Realist. October 2, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  17. ^ "Annual Technical Report 1998-1999" (PDF). NREL. October 1999. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  18. ^ "First Solar Top Module Supplier, Ships 1-GW". May 6, 2010. Archived from the original on April 18, 2015. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  19. ^ "First Solar to Produce Twice as Much as Leading Crystalline Solar Module Suppliers in 2009". September 4, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  20. ^ Nelson, Gary (March 18, 2011). "First Solar plans major manufacturing plant in SE Mesa". Arizona Republic.
  21. ^ a b "First Solar slashes forecast, staff & plans to flee subsidized markets". GigaOM. December 14, 2011.
  22. ^ "First Solar Restructures Operations to Align With Sustainable Market Opportunities". Archived from the original on June 20, 2012. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  23. ^ Hsu, Tiffany (April 18, 2012). "First Solar to cut 2,000 jobs and close factory in Germany". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
  24. ^ "First Solar to Write off $150 Million as it Pulls Out of German Market". Retrieved April 18, 2012.
  25. ^ "Slashed Subsidies Send Shivers Through European Solar Industry". The New York Times. March 31, 2010.
  26. ^ "First Solar Profit Drops on European Uncertainty". Archived from the original on May 9, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  27. ^ Sweet, Cassandra; Chernova, Yuliya (December 15, 2011). "First Solar Revamps Amid Weak Market". The Wall Street Journal.
  28. ^ Sweet, Cassandra; Chernova, Yuliya (December 15, 2011). "First Solar Revamps Amid Weak Market". The Wall Street Journal.
  29. ^ "FSLR Dec13 10k".
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 16, 2016. Retrieved December 8, 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ Patrick O'Grady (November 3, 2011). "First Solar continues with Mesa facility, delays Vietnam production". Phoenix Business Journal.
  32. ^ Hayley Ringle (August 15, 2018). "See inside Apple's $2 billion data center in Mesa". Phoenix Biz Journal. Retrieved August 15, 2018. First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) built the facility for $300 million but never put it into production. Apple bought the facility in 2013 for $100 million
  33. ^ First Solar Financial Report for Quarter 1 2012 Earnings Call; "First Solar to Boost Production as Profit, Sales Climb," Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2012)
  34. ^ "First solar to Increase module production capacity to 1800 MW".
  35. ^ "FIRST SOLAR, INC. (Form: 10-K, Received: 02/25/2015 06:16:43)".
  36. ^ "First Solar, Inc. Announces Fourth Quarter & Full Year 2018 Financial Results". Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  37. ^ Nichola Groom (February 26, 2013). "First Solar fails to give '13 outlook, shares fall". Reuters."First Solar Reports Record Sales in 4Q 2012, unveils 18.7% efficient solar PV cell". Solar Server Magazine. February 27, 2013. Archived from the original on April 11, 2013.
  38. ^ Matt Daily and Nichola Groom (August 4, 2011). "First Solar profit falls, cuts 2011 forecast". Reuters. "First Solar Q3 Earnings Presentation" (PDF). First Solar. November 1, 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 10, 2014. Retrieved November 16, 2012.
  39. ^ Michael Kanellos (August 6, 2011). "Suntech Abandons Thin Film, Wafer Experiments". GreenTechSolar.
  40. ^ a b First Solar Investors Conference Call, December 15, 2011
  41. ^ "First Solar Q3 Earnings Presentation" (PDF). First Solar. November 1, 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 10, 2014. Retrieved November 16, 2012.
  42. ^ "Interview: First Solar CEO James Hughes". December 13, 2012. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
  43. ^ "Projects". Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  44. ^ "Commission Approves Largest Clean Energy Investment in Nevada History". T&D World. January 8, 2019.
  45. ^ "MidAmerican Renewables buys 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm from First Solar – POWERGRID International/Electric Light & Power". Archived from the original on July 31, 2012. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  46. ^ "Semiconductor Today". Semiconductor Today. October 4, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  47. ^ "First Solar's 250 MW Agua Caliente is the World's Largest Solar Plant". Greentech Solar. September 10, 2012.
  48. ^ "Semiconductor Today". Semiconductor Today. October 4, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  49. ^ "World's biggest solar project powers up in Canada". Reuters. October 4, 2010.
  50. ^ "Salazar Activates First Solar Power Project on U.S. Land". BusinessWeek. May 7, 2012. Archived from the original on January 2, 2013. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  51. ^ "First Solar to Build 13MW Solar Power Plant for Dubai Electricity & Water Authority". October 18, 2012. Archived from the original on May 20, 2013. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  52. ^ [1] Archived June 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  53. ^ "Ramat Hovav solar field began to supply power to the grid (in Hebrew)". December 24, 2014. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  54. ^ "Leaders In Alternative Energy: Germany Turns On World's Biggest Solar Power Project – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International". Der Spiegel. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  55. ^ "juwi rüstet Stadion in Verona mit Photovoltaik-Anlage aus; bis 2012 PV-Anlagen mit insgesamt 2.500 Megawatt geplant". September 21, 2009. Archived from the original on February 25, 2012. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  56. ^ "Hip hip array! First solar farm opens in WA". Brisbane Times. October 10, 2012.
  57. ^ "AGL, First Solar to Build Australia's Largest Solar Project". Bloomberg.
  58. ^ "Projects". Retrieved August 17, 2019.

External links[edit]