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First Solar, Inc.

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2019 Vault Rankings

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.

First Solar, one of the top solar energy companies in the US, makes photovoltaic (PV) modules that convert the sun's energy to electricity. The company's products and services 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 two-thirds of sales in the US.

Operations

First Solar operates in two business segments, systems and modules. Systems, about 80% of revenue, provides start-to-finish services for building large-scale solar projects. Services include project development, engineering, procurement, and construction, as well as operations and maintenance. The modules segment, about 20% of revenue, designs and makes the company’s cadmium-tellurium (CdTe) solar modules using thin-film technology. First Solar operates three facilities to make the modules in a proprietary automated and continuous process.

Geographic Reach

First Solar has sales offices in more than 10 countries, including India, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Asia/Pacific region, and India. The US is its largest market, accounting for about two-thirds of sales. California, which requires that utilities provide a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy sources, accounts for about 40% of the company’s revenue from systems projects and third-party module sales. Japan and India each supply about 10% of sales with other revenue from Australia, Turkey, Jordan, and Spain. The Arizona-based company’s manufacturing facilities are in Malaysia, Vietnam, and Ohio.

Sales and Marketing

First Solar customers M.A. Mortenson Company, RCR O'Donnell Griffin Pty, Ltd, and Tampa Electric Company each accounted for more than 10% of modules business net sales. Sales of PV modules to other companies generate more than 20% of revenue.

Financial Performance

First Solar's revenue has bounced up and down over the past five years, but the overall trajectory has been down.

In 2018, sales dropped 24% to $2.2 billion compared to $2.9 billion in 2017. The decrease was attributed year-to-year differences in sales of projects. In 2017, First Solar sold the Moapa and Switch Station projects in 2017, while it didn’t have comparable sales in 2018. Project sales made in 2018 include Willow Springs, Rosamond, Mashiko, and Manildra, as well as some in India. Revenue fell about $800 million in the US in 2018 from 2017, while revenue rose in Japan, India, Australia, and France.

Despite lower revenue in 2018, First Solar posted a profit of $144.3 million compared to a loss of $165 million in 2017. The 2017 loss stemmed largely from a bigger tax bill because of the US Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

First Solar had $1.5 billion in cash and equivalents in 2018 compared to $2.3 billion in 2017. Operations used $326.8 million in 2018, while investing activities used $682.7 million and financing activities provided $255 million.

Strategy

First Solar accelerated bringing its next-generation PV technology to market, moving up the release of its Series 6 PV module to 2018, leapfrogging the Series 5. It began production at its second Vietnam factory in 2018 and continued to ramp up production across all its manufacturing sites.

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.

First Solar faces fierce competition and some of its competitors have deeper resources. SunPower, for one, is own by a bigger company, the French energy firm Total. Competitors overseas have the direct or implied backing of their governments. Chinese solar companies have been accused of selling their products below cost to gain market share. Such actions have prompted tariffs.

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.

First Solar, Inc.

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

Stats

Employer Type: Publicly Owned
Stock Symbol: FSLR
Stock Exchange: , NASDAQ
Chairman: Michael J. Ahearn
CEO: Mark R. Widmar
Metalurgical Technician Team Lead: Adelbert Wooley
Employees (This Location): 20
Employees (All Locations): 6,400

Major Office Locations

Tempe, AZ

Other Locations

Tempe, AZ
San Francisco, CA
Perrysburg, OH
Houston, TX