First Solar Inc. says it is investing $680 million to expand its U.S. domestic photovoltaic (PV) solar manufacturing capacity by 3.3 GW DC annually, representing an implied capital expenditure of approximately $0.20 per watt. The company intends to fund construction of its third U.S. manufacturing facility in Lake Township, Ohio, with existing cash resources.
Contingent upon permitting and pending approval of various state, regional and local incentives, the new facility is expected to commence operations in the first half of 2023. It is projected to achieve its throughput entitlement (modules produced per day) by the end of the same year with over 3 GW DC of nameplate capacity and is expected to attain full nameplate capacity, based on the company’s module efficiency roadmap, in 2025. When fully operational, the facility will scale the company’s Northwest Ohio footprint to a total annual capacity of 6 GW DC, which is believed to make it the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside of China.
The Rudolph Libbe Group, a provider of construction and facility services, will serve as the design/build contractor for First Solar Inc.’s new 1.8 million-square-foot solar module manufacturing facility. Construction is expected to begin this summer.
“These investments in U.S.-made solar technologies are the perfect embodiment of President Joe Biden’s strategy to build out domestic manufacturing and supply chains for critical industries,” says U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm. “As a partner to our solar program since 2003 and a DOE loan guarantee recipient in 2012, this company is a great example of how investment and innovation can build the clean energy future right here at home – shoring up competitiveness and bringing good-paying jobs to all pockets of the country.”
Unique among the world’s 10 largest solar manufacturers for being the only U.S.-based company and for not using a crystalline silicon (c-Si) semiconductor, First Solar produces its ultra-low carbon thin-film PV modules using a fully integrated, continuous process under one roof.
The facility is projected to directly create approximately 500 jobs and is expected to produce an enhanced thin-film PV module for the utility-scale solar market in the U.S., which is anticipated to have a higher efficiency and wattage in a larger form factor. The additional production capacity from this new facility, when available, is also expected to help mitigate the challenges currently being experienced in the global ocean freight market, by reducing the transoceanic gap between international supply and domestic demand.
The facility will be one of the most advanced of its kind in the solar industry, allowing First Solar to produce an anticipated average of one module roughly every 2.75 seconds across its three-factory Ohio footprint once it achieves its full production capacity. The facility will combine highly skilled workers with Industry 4.0 architecture, machine-to-machine communication, artificial intelligence and IoT connectivity to produce a higher degree of automation, precision and continuous improvement.