Despite a less than stellar earnings report, First Solar continues to expand with new manufacturing planned along with dedicated R&D facility to increase learning and reduce downtime on commercial production lines.
Following a loss reported in its quarterly earnings report, First Solar announced plans to invest approximately $270 million in a dedicated research and development (R&D) innovation center in Perrysburg, Ohio.
In its Q3 earnings call yesterday, First Solar CEO, Mark Widmar said that in Q3 First Solar produced 2.4 GW of modules, and shipped 2.8 gigawatts. “Although showing signs of the recent easing, the overall shipping and logistics environment remains challenging,” Widmar said. Third-quarter revenue of $629 million missed analyst estimates of $744.35 million, according to Benzinga Pro, and the company reported a quarterly net loss of 46 cents per share, which missed average estimates for a loss of 27 cents per share.
Nevertheless, Widmar expressed optimism. “The continued long-term demand for our products and the fact that our technology is expected to serve as the backbone for many of our customers’ long-term growth plans is a testament to First Solar’s strong fundamentals.”
The company plans to expand capacity to approximately 10.7 GW in 2026. Additionally First Solar will spend up to approximately $200 million to upgrade and expand its Ohio manufacturing footprint at both of its current operating facilities, and a third is under construction and scheduled to come online in the first half of 2023. Widmar estimated that its Ohio nameplate capacity will increase by almost 1 GW to just over 7 GW by 2025.
The newly announced R&D facility will be located near First Solar’s existing Perrysburg manufacturing facility, and will an area of approximately 1.3 million square feet. Plans are for a high-tech pilot manufacturing line, which will produce full-sized prototypes of thin film and tandem PV modules.
“With a record shipment backlog and consistent demand for our modules, we face the twin challenges of optimizing existing and planned production capacity to deliver on our commitments, while ensuring that our technology roadmap does not lose momentum,” said Widmar. “This investment allows us to create an R&D sandbox separate from our commercial manufacturing operations, ensuring that we can accelerate innovation without the cost of taking mission-critical tools offline.”
First Solar’s manufacturing line currently handles both commercial production of solar modules and the company’s product development efforts. The line, however, cannot handle both activities simultaneously.
“We expect that this new facility will play a pivotal role in solidifying America’s leadership in the development and responsible production of high performance thin film photovoltaic semiconductors,” said Markus Gloeckler, chief technology officer, First Solar. “This facility will be designed with the future in mind and we expect that it will directly enable the next generation of advanced photovoltaics.”
First Solar also operates factories in Vietnam and Malaysia, and is building its first new manufacturing facility in India, scheduled to begin operations in the second half of 2023. On completion of its expansion plans, the company expects to have over 20 GWDC of annual global manufacturing capacity in 2025.
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