The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

First Solar's CEO Leaves Abruptly Amid Tough Times For Solar Industry

What's going on at First Solar? The company, a pillar of the solar industry, on Tuesday announced what seemed an abrupt departure of its CEO, Robert Gillette, and the return of its former chief executive, Mike Ahearn, during a time when the company and the rest of the industry are dealing with a market marked by an oversupply of solar panels and plummeting prices.

First Solar’s shares plummeted 26 percent to reach $43.06 per share near Tuesday's closing.

The Arizona thin-film maker is mum about the reason for Gillette’s leaving, which is “effective immediately.” A spokesman said the company will not be talking about the change of leadership until the earnings call next week.

Gillette became the CEO in October 2009 after spending four and a half years as CEO of Honeywell Aerospace. Ahearn then stepped down from the CEO post after spending nearly 10 years building First Solar into a successful public company. When he left, First Solar was moving up in sales and profits, and it had entered the project development business in earnest with the $400 million purchase of OptiSolar’s unfinished projects in early 2009.

Last year was a good one for First Solar, too, though the company knew it couldn’t depend on Germany — and by extension Europe — as its chief market for too long. We started to hear more about the company’s solar panel sales agreements in India, for example, and a deal to sell panels and act as a general contractor for a 10-megawatt project in Australia. The company headed into 2011 with a cheerful forecast.

But 2011 so far is turning out to be an awful year for First Solar and the industry overall. The falling incentives in Germany, Italy and France — and the delay by project developers to complete projects — have led to several gigawatts of solar panel inventories industrywide and crashing prices. First Solar has experienced huge drops in earnings this year. Gillette told investors in August that there should be a rebound in the second half of 2011.

But the big drop in silicon solar panel prices — between 30 and 40 percent so far this year — presents a growing threat to First Solar’s advantage as a low-cost solar panel maker. First Solar uses cadmium-telluride instead of silicon for its solar panels. 

The company initially won promises of federal loan guarantees for four of its U.S. solar farm projects, but lost the one that would have guaranteed a bulk of a $1.9 billion project in California called Topaz Solar Farm. It was able to finalize the loan guarantees for three other projects and sell them to utilities and other investors.

First Solar needs to find a buyer for the 550-megawatt Topaz project, and that has proven a rather difficult task. A report emerged Monday that a potential buyer, Enbridge, backed out of the deal.

Meanwhile, some of First Solar’s top executives have left this year. Former president of operations, Bruce Sohn, left to head an energy storage company called Fluidic Energy. Jens Meyerhoff, who was the CFO and then the head of the project development business unit, recently departed as well.

Ahearn’s return is only temporary. The company said it has formed a search committee to look for a permanet chief executive. Ahearn has become an investor and launched a $300 million greentech fund earlier this year. He told the Wall Street Journal that he wouldn’t be investing in the photovoltaic industry.

Untitled Document


States Already Seek To Delay Clean Power Plan

Andrew Harris, Bloomberg Fifteen states led by coal-rich West Virginia asked a federal court to stall Obama administration rules intended to c...

Stolen Solar Panels and Sabotage A Challenge for Powering India With Renewable Energy

Anindya Upadhyay, Bloomberg Disappointment spread across Tarun Singh’s face when he saw that parts of his solar power microgrid in eastern India’...

Suntech Parent Company Buys Majority Share of US-based Suniva

Ehren Goossens Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd., the Hong Kong-based solar company controlled by billionaire Zheng Jianming,...

Sunrise in Pakistan as the Country Delves into Solar PV

Robert Harker Pakistan has joined the list of countries that are exploring solar power as a means to bridge critical energy generat...


Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3 Continues to (R)evolutionize at SPI

Array Technologies, Inc. (ATI) prepares to showcase its recently launched tracking syst...

Appalachian's Energy Center assists counties with landfill gas to energy projects

The Appalachian Energy Center at Appalachian State University recently completed a proj...

Early Bird Registration Deadline for GRC Annual Meeting is This Week

The deadline for early-bird rates for registration for the biggest annual geothermal ev...

Redesigned Video Gallery

Hydropower news and information, and interesting promotional announcements are now avai...


Transitioning to Net-Zero Living

Judith and Jeffrey adore living in Belfast, Maine – a quaint harbor town of Belfast, Maine. They previously res...

The True Cost of Electric Vehicles in Australia

In order to avoid increased congestion, further greenhouse warming and lessen Australia’s reliance on imported ...

The Coming Multi-trillion Dollar Energy Investment Drive

In coming years, a multi-trillion dollar low-emission energy investment drive will get underway. Three catalysts wil...

The Perfect Elevator Pitch

The elevator pitch is a concise statement that grabs attention and communicates value, ideally leading to a next step...


Ucilia Wang is a California-based freelance journalist who writes about renewable energy. She previously was the associate editor at Greentech Media and a staff writer covering the semiconductor industry at Red Herring. In addition to Renewable En...


Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Intersolar North America 2016

Exhibition: July 12 - 14, 2016; Conference: July 11 - 13, 2016 Intersola...

Intersolar South America 2015

Exhibition and Conference: September 1-3, 2015 Intersolar South America ...

Intersolar Europe 2016

Exhibition: June 22-24, 2016; Conference: June 21-22, 2016 Intersolar Eu...


How To Recruit An Internal Ally

When you’re collecting information for a proposal, the person with...

The Proof Is Not Always In The Pudding

One of the best ways to turn a skeptical prospect into a buyer is to giv...

Pushing Beyond The Cushion

Efficiency projects are all too often viewed as “optional” o...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now