FIRST SOLAR, INC. at a Glance

Uppers

  • Good pay and benefits.
  • Smart, talented workforce.
  • High-tech driven.

Downers

  • Too many meetings.
  • Lots of office politics.
  • Slow decision-making processes.

The Bottom Line

  • While First Solar is a leader in its field, the recent events have made the solar power industry turbulent.

About FIRST SOLAR, INC.

Watts up at First Solar Inc.? Exactly. The company's photovoltaic (PV) modules are used to convert the sun's energy to electricity, providing watts (measured in megawatts when gathered into large solar arrays) to power homes and businesses. To make its PV modules, the company uses cadmium and tellurium, which offer better yield in converting sunlight to electricity than conventional crystalline silicon. First Solar also plans, builds, and operates large solar power systems in the US and internationally. The company generates about 85% of its sales in the US.

Operations

First Solar's two business units each produce about 50% of revenue. The systems segment provides turnkey solar-system services such as project development, engineering, procurement, and construction services, operations, and maintenance. The components segment designs and makes the company's cadmium-tellurium (CdTe) solar modules using thin-film technology. First Solar operates two facilities to make the modules in a proprietary automated and continuous process.

Geographic Reach

First Solar has sales offices in nine countries, including Canada, China, Germany, and India. The US is its largest market, accounting for about 85% of sales. California, which requires that utilities provide a certain percentage of their power from renewables, accounts for about 45% of the company's revenue from systems projects and third-party module sales. First Solar's international revenue comes in equal shares from customers in Australia, India, and Jordan. The company's manufacturing facilities are in Malaysia and Ohio.

Sales and Marketing

First Solar customers Southern Power Company, NextEra Energy, and Recurrent Energy each account for more than 10% of the company's revenue. Sales of PV modules to other companies generate about 20% of revenue.

Financial Performance

First Solar's revenue dropped 18% to $2.9 billion and the company reported a loss $360 million in 2016 compared to 2015.

The systems segment's revenue fell by more than $720 million as the company sold interests in two projects and completed several others. Sales from several new projects didn't make up for the lost revenue. The components segment, which includes modules used in the company's systems projects, rose about $95 million in 2016 from 2015. First Solar reported a 17% increase in the volume of watts sold, tempered by a 9% decrease in the average selling price per watt.

The company's net loss came from lower revenue combined with restructuring charges and asset impairments totaling about $820 million. Most of the charges were related to adjustments the company made to accelerate production of its System 6 PV module.

The company generated more than $206 million from operations in 2016, compared to a cash outflow of $360 million in 2015. The increase came from the reduced number of solar power projects under development.

Strategy

First Solar accelerated its PV technology road map to drive up sales. The company moved up the release of its Series 6 PV module to 2018, leapfrogging the Series 5. The the company scrapped development of its Series 5 product, began winding down production of the Series 4 module, and converted all its manufacturing lines to the cadmium-telluride process. First Solar is betting that the Series 6 will offer a sizable competitive advantage. It is to have better conversion efficiency and a larger size that will provide more watts per panel at a module cost-per-watt that is 40% lower than the Series 4. The move helps First Solar maintain a good price for its cadmium-telluride technology as prices for crystalline silicon have plummeted.

As its ramps up production of Series 6, First Solar has taken steps to cut costs and raise capital. In 2017, the company sold four solar projects including the 280 MW California Flats Solar Project and the 250 MW Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project in Nevada.

While there was concern about changes in federal support for renewable energy technologies, First Solar has said that the economics of solar energy are driving new purchases. Solar energy has proven to be feasible alternative to conventional fuels and that utilities are buying on that basis.

Mergers and Acquisitions

In 2016 First Solar acquired Enki Technology Inc., a developer of advanced coating materials for the PV solar industry, for about $10 million. The deal included patents, technical information, and expertise associated with the development and production of anti-reflective coating material used in the production of solar modules.

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FIRST SOLAR, INC.

350 W Washington St #600
Tempe, AZ 85281-1496
Phone: 1 (602) 414-9300

Stats

  • Employer Type: Public
  • CEO: Mark R. Widmar
  • COO: Philip T. de Jong
  • CEO: Mark R. Widmar
  • 2016 Employees: 5,400

Major Office Locations

  • Tempe, AZ

Other Locations

  • San Francisco, CA
  • Perrysburg, OH