First Solar Plans Restructuring, Cuts Manufacturing Line and Announces Layoffs

When solar analysts talk about the solar coaster, they aren’t kidding. News on November 16 that U.S. thin-film solar module manufacturer First Solar was planning to lay off a significant portion of its workforce, cancel its series 5 module production line and restructure the company hit the industry hard, especially since the news came just one week after the U.S. presidential election in which Trump was elected.

But it’s important to remember that while the news did coincide with the news that the Trump administration will be taking office in January 2017, the two announcements have nothing to do with one another.

Solar PV prices have been dropping like stones since the summer, when the Chinese government announced that was scaling back the building of PV power plants from an estimated 20 GW per year to 9 GW per year.  That announcement left solar PV manufacturers with massive module oversupply, sending PV prices plummeting. Paula Mints discussed this on the 3@3 on Solar PV video series on September 28.

Clearly, First Solar’s CdTe technology can’t keep up with the falling prices. The company had just announced its Series 5 module at Solar Power International in September, showing it in various booths around the show floor. That Series 5 module “was positioned to significantly reduce balance of system cost as compared to Series 4,” said CEO Mark Widmar in a guidance call on November 16. However, he said that the change to the Series 5 would have resulted in a slightly higher cost per watt than the Series 4, which “has proven to be prohibited in the current low ASP environment.”

According to Widmar, the new plan “enables the faster technology deployment at a lower CapEx and risk profile.”

“Simply stated, the best use of our factory space is to produce Series 6, our lowest cost and highest efficiency product,” he said.

The company expects the Series 6 module to have an efficiency above 18 percent and exceed 420 watts per panel, which it hopes will render the module price competitive with all forms of crystalline silicon technologies.

Seeking Alpha has the complete guidance call transcript.

Lead image: First Solar manufacturing line. Credit: First Solar.

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Jennifer Runyon
Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. You can reach her at Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference and expo for the transmission and distribution industry. In her role, she works in close cooperation with a large team of committed industry executives to shape the educational content for the event. She also helps assemble the renewable energy content for POWERGEN and helped launch the first Grid-Scale Storage Summit, a co-located event at HYDROVISION International. She has traveled to Germany to see onshore and offshore wind installations; Iceland to see geothermal energy in action; and France to see cutting-edge smart grids. In the U.S. she has visited and reported about bioenergy power plants in Florida, both large-scale and small-scale hydropower; and multiple wind farms, solar PV, and CSP installations. Formerly, she was the managing editor of Innovate Forum, an online publication that focused on innovation in manufacturing. Prior to that she was the managing editor at Desktop Engineering magazine. In 2008, she won an "Eddy Award" for her editing work on an article about solar trees in Vienna. In 2010, was awarded an American Business Media Neal Award for its eNewsletters, which were created under her direction. She holds a Master's Degree in English Education from Boston University and a BA in English from the University of Virginia.

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