First Solar’s factories roll on in US, Asia as COVID-19 lockdowns multiply

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Image credit: First Solar

First Solar has opted to keep its factories in US and Asia open for now following an assessment that some are not covered by lockdown plans enacted in either region.

On Thursday, the ‘Solar Module Super League’ (SMSL) member said the COVID-19 outbreak has so far not stopped its production lines at locations in the US state of Ohio, as well as the Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Nasdaq-listed firm said it is its “understanding” that its Ohio plants of Perrysburg and Lake Township can stay operational despite the ‘stay at home’ order issued by the US state on 22 March, forcing the confinement of citizens and the shutdown of non-essential businesses for two weeks.

First Solar has similarly concluded its Kulim manufacturing plants in Malaysia can remain in production even as anti-pandemic measures are rolled out in the Asian state, including movement restrictions set to last until at least 14 April.

Business as usual remains First Solar’s approach for the time being also in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City. Its facilities in the city are “not impacted by government-mandated restrictions on movement at this time,” the SMSL member said.

Solar players scramble to interpret lockdown rules

First Solar’s interpretation that lockdown orders do not extend to solar factories mirrors similar views by others in the US. In the state of California, green energy operators examined state rules and concluded renewable installs and maintenance can be viewed as an “essential service”.

Elsewhere, renewable players in key markets from Spain to Australia have urged for the industry to be extended the same treatment, and exempted from business closures. This week, India acted to grant green energy staff the right to move and access plants despite the lockdown in place.

In Southeast Asia, solar manufacturers other than First Solar have sought to play down COVID-19’s impacts so far. Approached by PV Tech, Jetion Solar said last week its PV factory in Thailand has not been affected to date thanks to its sheltered location and the firm’s stocking-up efforts.

For Arizona-headquartered First Solar, the COVID-19 update follows its guidance last month of US$2.7-2.9 billion in sales for 2020 – down from the US$3.06 billion reported in 2019 – and forecasts of full-year shipments in the 5.8GW-6GW range.

The SMSL member said it will continue to monitor developments around all its facilities going forward. Describing staff safety as a “top priority”, the firm explained it has already enacted various measures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus across all of its locations worldwide.

PV Tech has also highlighted that LPKF Laser, a key equipment supplier to First Solar as it migrates and adds new Series 6 CdTe thin-film module capacity at all sites, is remaining fully operational at manufacturing sites in Germany that supply laser scribers to First Solar's continued capcity expansions in 2020.

PV Tech has set up a tracker to map out how the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting solar supply chains worldwide. You can read the latest updates here.

If you have a COVID-19 statement to share or a story on how the pandemic is disrupting a solar business anywhere in the world, do get in touch at jrojo@solarmedia.co.uk or lstoker@solarmedia.co.uk.

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