First Solar opens manufacturing plant in India


First Solar, Inc. inaugurated its new manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu, India, with a capacity of 3.3 GW.

India’s first fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing plant will produce First Solar’s Series 7 solar PV modules that were developed at the company’s research centers in the U.S. and optimized for the Indian market, the company says. The facility employs approximately 1,000 people.

“We are pleased that First Solar chose Tamil Nadu for this landmark investment, solidifying our state’s position as India’s hub for manufacturing,” said Dr T R B Rajaa. “This factory sets a high bar for sustainability and advanced manufacturing and has created high-value jobs as a result of its presence in our state, all while supporting India’s ambition to become self-sufficient in solar technology.”

The company reports an investment of approximately $700 million in the facility in India, which includes $500 million in previously announced financing from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the facility is First Solar’s sixth operational factory in the world, with others in the U.S., Malaysia and Vietnam.

“The United States is leveraging American innovation and technology to diversify critical energy supply chains around the world and drive economic growth in India,” said DFC CEO, Scott Nathan. “That’s good for the United States and it’s good for India. This $500 million in financing reflects the increasing strength of our partnership with India – DFC’s largest market and a like-minded partner with a dynamic private sector.”

First Solar reports that its thin film PV modules are produced using a continuous process under one roof that does not rely on Chinese crystalline silicon supply chains. Its proprietary, vertically integrated process takes about four hours to turn sheets of glass into fully functioning solar panels, the company says. Each module has a layer of cadmium telluride semiconductor, derived from byproducts of copper and zinc mining, which First Solar says have several benefits compared to conventional c-Si, including lower cost, superior scalability and a higher theoretical efficiency limit.

The Series 7 module produced by the new facility has a carbon and water footprint that is about four times lower than crystalline silicon modules produced in China, the company reports, using 50% less energy and only a third of the water than an equivalent polysilicon module production facility would require.

The factory in India is located in an area of high baseline water stress, and the company says it is believed to be the world’s first net-zero water withdrawal solar manufacturing facility. The facility will rely entirely on tertiary treated reverse osmosis water from the city’s sewage treatment plant and have zero wastewater discharge, expected to relieve stress on the local water system. Additionally, the factory is home to India’s first solar PV recycling plant.

“One month ago in Dubai, COP28 participants issued a bold call for the world to transition away from fossil fuels, to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Ambassador Eric Garcetti. “This First Solar production facility will help advance our global transition to cleaner, greener energy, and stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when the United States and India work together – across government and private sectors – to achieve lasting climate action.”

According to its Q3 2023 earnings report, the company delivered gross margins significantly higher than Wall Street expectations. Gross margins came in at 47%, higher than the consensus of 39%. Gross margins improved based on lower sales freight costs, higher module average sales prices, and a higher volume of U.S.-produced modules, which make them eligible for the 45x tax credit under the Inflation Reduction Act. First Solar was also the first company to close two separate tax credit transfer agreements, selling $500 million and $200 million of Inflation Reduction Act advanced manufacturing tax credits.

The company continues to grow its manufacturing capacity in the U.S., and expects to have 25 GW of global annual nameplate capacity by 2026.

Founded in 1999, First Solar is among the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers. It sets itself apart, however, by being the only U.S.-headquartered company in the top ten that is not manufacturing in China.

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