First Solar, Inc. today announced that it will invest $680 million to expand America's domestic photovoltaic (PV) solar manufacturing capacity by 3.3 gigawatts (GW) DC annually, representing an implied capital expenditure of approximately $0.20 per watt. The company intends to fund construction of its third US manufacturing facility, in Lake Township, Ohio, with existing cash resources.
Contigent upon permitting and pending approval of various state, regional and local incentives, the new facility is expected to commence operations in the first half of 2023. It is projected to achieve its throughput entitlement (modules produced per day) by the end of the same year with over 3 GWDC of nameplate capacity, and is expected to attain full nameplate capacity, based on the company's module efficiency roadmap, in 2025. When fully operational, the facility will scale the company's Northwest Ohio footprint to a total annual capacity of 6 GWDC, which is believed to make it the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside of China.
"These investments in American-made solar technologies are the perfect embodiment of President Biden's strategy to buildout domestic manufacturing and supply chains for critical industries," said US Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm. "As a partner to our solar program since 2003 and a DOE loan guarantee recipient in 2012, this company is a great example of how investment and innovation can build the clean energy future right here at home—shoring up American competitiveness and bringing good-paying jobs to all pockets of the country."
Unique among the world's solar manufacturers for being the only US-headquartered company and for not using a crystalline silicon (c-Si) semiconductor, First Solar produces its ultra-low carbon thin film PV modules using a fully integrated, continuous process under one roof.
The 1.8 million square foot facility is projected to directly create approximately 500 jobs and is expected to produce an enhanced thin film PV module for the utility-scale solar market in the US, which is anticipated to have a higher efficiency and wattage in a larger form factor. The additional production capacity from this new facility, when available, is also expected to help mitigate the challenges currently being experienced in the global ocean freight market, by reducing the transoceanic gap between international supply and domestic demand.
"We have said that we stand ready to support President Biden's goal to transition America to a clean, energy-secure future, and our decision to more than double our US manufacturing capacity with this new facility is First Solar making good on that commitment," said Mark Widmar, chief executive officer, First Solar. "This facility will represent a significant leap forward in photovoltaics manufacturing, a true factory of the future. It will leverage our advantaged position at the intersection of efficiency, energy yield, optimized form factor, and cost competitiveness, while leading our manufacturing fleet in delivering the highest efficiency and wattage, and the lowest cost per watt."
The facility will be one of the most advanced of its kind in the solar industry, allowing First Solar to produce an anticipated average of one module roughly every 2.75 seconds across its three-factory Ohio footprint once it achieves its full production capacity. The facility will combine highly skilled workers with Industry 4.0 architecture, machine-to-machine communication, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things connectivity to produce a higher degree of automation, precision, and continuous improvement.
"While designing and building this factory of the future we're challenging ourselves to focus on the continuous improvement of our throughput, quality, and safety through automation without losing sight of our greatest strength, our people," said Mike Koralewski, chief manufacturing operations officer, First Solar. "We see this as an opportunity for our associates to upskill, learn new technologies, continue to grow and develop themselves as our factories and products continually evolve."
Meanwhile, Widmar noted that First Solar continues to evaluate opportunities to further expand its global manufacturing footprint and said, "Looking forward, strong demand for Series 6, a compelling technology roadmap, a strong balance sheet, and a largely fixed operating expense cost structure, are each catalysts as we evaluate the potential for future capacity expansion. While we have made no such decisions at this time, we are continuing to evaluate the potential for further domestic and international expansion."
Designed and developed at its research and development (R&D) centers in California and Ohio, First Solar's advanced thin film PV modules set industry benchmarks for quality, durability, reliability, design, and environmental performance. Each module features a layer of Cadmium Telluride (CadTel) semiconductor that is only three percent the thickness of a human hair and the company continues to optimize the amount of semiconductor material used by enhancing its vapor deposition process. First Solar also operates an advanced recycling program that recovers more than 90 percent of CadTel for use in new modules. In addition to its Ohio manufacturing facilities, First Solar also operates factories in Vietnam and Malaysia.