First Solar to add 3.3 GW of capacity in a new $680 million Ohio factory

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First Solar said it will invest $680 million to expand its domestic U.S. photovoltaic solar manufacturing capacity by 3.3 GW annually, representing an implied capital expenditure of around $0.20 per watt.

The company said it intends to fund construction of its third U.S. manufacturing facility in Ohio with existing cash resources.

The new facility is expected to start operations in the first half of 2023. It is projected to achieve its throughput entitlement (modules produced per day) by the end of 2023 with more than 3 GWdc of nameplate capacity. It is expected to reach full nameplate capacity, based on the company’s module efficiency roadmap, in 2025.

The facility will scale the company’s northwest Ohio footprint to a total annual capacity of 6 GWdc, which it said represents one of the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complexes outside of China.

Mark Widmar

The 1.8 million-square-foot facility is projected to create 500 jobs and produce an enhanced thin film PV module for the utility-scale solar market in the U.S. The module is anticipated to have a higher efficiency and wattage in a larger form factor. The additional production capacity is also expected to help ease challenges in the global ocean freight market, by reducing the gap between international supply and domestic demand.

Mark Widmar, CEO, said in a statement that the new plant “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.”

With the new facility, First Solar will be able to produce an average of one module roughly every 2.75 seconds across its three-factory Ohio footprint. The new facility will include machine-to-machine communication, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things connectivity to produce a high degree of automation, precision, and continuous improvement.

Widmar said the company continues to evaluate opportunities to further expand its global manufacturing footprint. He said that  strong demand for its Series 6 modules along with “a compelling technology roadmap, a strong balance sheet, and a largely fixed operating expense cost structure” are catalysts as the company evaluates the potential for future capacity expansion.

First Solar modules use a layer of Cadmium Telluride (CadTel) semiconductor. It also operates a recycling program that recovers CadTel for use in new modules. In addition to its Ohio manufacturing facilities, First Solar also operates factories in Vietnam and Malaysia.

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