First Solar Looks Past Success To Even Brighter Future  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The WSJ has an update on the progress of First Solar - First Solar Looks Past Success To Even Brighter Future

First Solar Inc. is the world's largest solar-panel maker. Now, it wants to compete with fossil-fuel power generators.

In addition to making flat, glass panels that convert sunlight into electricity, First Solar has built some of the largest solar farms in the U.S. including a 21-megawatt facility in Blythe, Calif., owned by NRG Energy Inc. and a 10-megawatt plant in Boulder City, Nev., owned by Sempra Energy.

First Solar plans to build several more solar farms with a project-development business assembled over the last year through its acquisitions of NextLight Renewable Power LLC in April, a unit of Edison International, in January and part of privately held OptiSolar last year.

The move is a risky one for the Tempe, Ariz.-based company. First Solar hopes it can leverage its expertise in solar panels to build solar farms capable of taking on gas-fired power plants. The goal: to greatly expand solar power's share of the U.S. power market.

With 2,200 megawatts of solar farms under development, First Solar hopes it can demonstrate that solar power is a reliable, reasonably priced source of valuable daytime electricity. For investors, the company aims to prove that solar farms can be lucrative.

"Our major goal is to provide renewable power that's sustainable over time," said First Solar Chief Executive Rob Gillette in an interview earlier this month. In turn, that will "drive the costs of our technology down to where it is competing with fossil-fuel peaking resources," he added.

This year, the company will sell most of its panels into the red-hot solar-power market. Global installations of solar panels are expected to nearly double this year to about 13 gigawatts, due to strong demand in Germany and other European countries, where developers are rushing to nail down projects ahead of government plans to cut subsidies later this year.

Meanwhile, demand in the U.S., Japan, China and other countries has been steadily rising. In addition to clean energy requirements and improving economies, falling solar-panel prices have generated greater interest.

With its low-cost thin-film manufacturing technology, First Solar is a formidable competitor in a market increasingly populated by low-priced Chinese manufacturers. The company isn't standing still. First Solar is in the process of expanding production of solar panels by nearly 60% to 2,100 megawatts by 2012, while working to cut manufacturing costs and improve its product. ...

Analysts predict U.S. solar-power demand could double this year to nearly 1,000 megawatts and continue growing over the next several years. Much of that growth will be in California and other Western states where state renewable-energy requirements and strong solar resources have created a springboard for the solar market.

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