First Solar to double US manufacturing capacity with new 3.3GW Ohio plant

Due to be fully operational in 2023, the facility will be First Solar’s seventh manufacturing plant. Image: First Solar.

First Solar has unveiled plans to more than double its US manufacturing capacity with a 3.3GWdc facility in Ohio that will produce thin film PV modules for the country’s utility-scale solar sector.

The ‘Solar Module Super League’ (SMSL) member will invest US$680 million in the plant, which is expected to begin commercial operations in the first half of 2023 and reach full capacity two years later.

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The 1.8 million-square-foot facility will be added to First Solar’s two existing manufacturing plants in Ohio and take its total US manufacturing footprint up to 6GW. It also has two factories in Vietnam and a further two in Malaysia.

It is intended that additional US production capacity will help alleviate challenges currently being experienced in the global ocean freight market by reducing the gap between international supply and domestic demand.

First Solar CEO Mark Widmar said that with the new plant, the company is making good on its commitment to support President Biden’s goal to transition the US to a clean energy future. “This facility will represent a significant leap forward in photovoltaics manufacturing, a true factory of the future.”

Last year saw First Solar ship 5.5GW of its modules, which were designed at its Ohio and California research and development (R&D) centres and feature a layer of cadmium telluride (CdTe) semiconductor.

With the US aiming to reach 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, the country’s Department of Energy earlier this year earmarked US$128 million for R&D to help the PV manufacturing sector reduce average utility-scale power costs by 60% to reach US$0.02/kWh by 2030. The funding package includes US$20 million to support the formation of a consortium that will work on slashing the costs of CdTe technologies.

On First Solar’s new plant, energy secretary Jennifer Granholm said: “These investments in American-made solar technologies are the perfect embodiment of President Biden’s strategy to buildout domestic manufacturing and supply chains for critical industries.”

After ramping its second factory in Malaysia, First Solar hit a manufacturing capacity of 7.9GW for its Series 6 modules earlier this year and is expected to have around 8GW of production capacity for the modules by the end of 2021.

Driven by strong demand for its Series 6 series, Widmar said First Solar is now evaluating the potential to further expand its manufacturing footprint in the US and overseas.

As part of efforts to focus on module manufacturing, the company has this year completed the sale of both a utility-scale US solar project development platform of approximately 10GW as well as its North American operations and maintenance business.

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