New manufacturing facility will be third in U.S.
By Terry Troy
First Solar, a leading American solar technology company and global provider of solar modules, has announced that it will invest $680 million to expand its domestic photovoltaic solar manufacturing capacity annually, with the intent of funding construction of its third manufacturing facility in Lake Township, Ohio outside of Toledo.
Contingent upon permitting and local incentives, the new facility is expected to commence operations in the first half of 2023, with full capacity reached in 2025. When fully operational, the facility will scale the company’s Northwest Ohio footprint to a total annual capacity of 6 GW, which is believed to make it the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside of China.
Unique among the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers for being the only US-headquartered company and for not using a crystalline silicon semiconductor, First Solar produces its ultra-low carbon thin film PV modules using a fully integrated, continuous process under one roof.
The 1.8 million square foot 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 US, 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.
“This facility will represent a significant leap forward in photovoltaics manufacturing, a true factory of the future,” said Mark Widmar, CEO of First Solar. “It will leverage our advantaged position at the intersection of efficiency, energy yield, optimized form factor, and cost competitiveness, while leading our manufacturing fleet in delivering the highest efficiency and wattage, and the lowest cost per watt.”
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 Internet of Things connectivity to produce a higher degree of automation, precision, and continuous improvement.
“While designing and building this factory of the future we’re challenging ourselves to focus on the continuous improvement of our throughput, quality, and safety through automation without losing sight of our greatest strength, our people,” said Mike Koralewski, chief manufacturing operations officer, First Solar. “We see this as an opportunity for our associates to upskill, learn new technologies, continue to grow and develop themselves as our factories and products continually evolve.”
Meanwhile, Widmar noted that First Solar continues to evaluate opportunities to further expand its global manufacturing footprint.
“Looking forward, strong demand for Series 6, a compelling technology roadmap, a strong balance sheet, and a largely fixed operating expense cost structure, are each catalysts as we evaluate the potential for future capacity expansion,” said Widmar. “While we have made no such decisions at this time, we are continuing to evaluate the potential for further domestic and international expansion.”