First Solar broke ground this week on its third manufacturing facility in Ohio. The new 3.3 GWdc facility is scheduled to open in the first half of 2023 and represents a $680 million investment. The new plant will produce the upcoming Series 7 modules and bring First Solar’s total annual capacity in Ohio to 6 GWdc, which is believed to make it the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside China. The timing is perfect, considering all of the issues, both political and practical, facing solar panel imports.
“Today, we’re leading the efforts to revitalize American solar manufacturing and secure critical clean energy supply chains because reliable access to competitive, efficient solar panels is essential to our country’s future. Solar panels are the next crude oil, and we cannot be beholden to adversarial nations for our supply,” said Mark Widmar, chief executive officer, First Solar. “We’re scaling US cleantech innovation by investing in R&D, ensuring that a uniquely American solar technology that was developed right here in Ohio remains competitively advantaged. And we’re taking it a step further by producing the next generation of solar panels designed and made in the USA for the American solar industry.”
The ceremony included the U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and several state representatives: the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, Jon Husted; US Representatives Bob Latta (OH-05) and Marcy Kaptur (OH-09). The facility is forecast to create over 700 permanent jobs in addition to the over 1,600 people that First Solar currently employs in Ohio.
“This plant represents confidence and optimism in the future of our country,” Walsh said at the ground-breaking. “First Solar’s new factory in Ohio is a model of President Biden’s vision for keeping America competitive by investing in clean energy and creating good jobs. Not only does this facility advance innovative manufacturing for a sustainable future, First Solar is also investing in its workers through skills training, competitive pay, and robust benefits. Empowering all of America’s workers is how we’ll build back a better economy and win the future.”
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Founded in 1999, First Solar has had a manufacturing presence in the state since it began commercial production at its original Perrysburg factory in 2002, when it produced 1.5 megawatts (MW)DC of modules and employed 150 people. Since then, the company has invested over $2 billion in expanding its Ohio manufacturing presence, making the state home to the largest photovoltaic solar manufacturing footprint in the Western Hemisphere when it commissioned its second factory in 2019.
First Solar is a unique phenomena in the North American solar industry:
- The only US-headquartered company among the ten largest solar manufacturers
- They do not use a crystalline silicon (c-Si) semiconductor, and as such do not need Chinese manufacturing.
- Instead, the company’s thin-film module technology uses a proprietary Cadmium Telluride (CadTel) semiconductor.
- They recycle all of their own panels.
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.
The 1.8 million square foot facility 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.
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