First Solar is planning its next major CdTe thin-film production capacity expansion phase to occur in 2015 with an additional 1GW of nameplate capacity. The company revealed the plans during its 2014 Analyst Day event.

CdTe nameplate capacity will remain at 1.8GW in 2014, excluding the 100MW TetraSun production plant currently under construction. During its Analyst Day event, management noted that capacity utilisation rates would increase in the second-half of the year from its existing lines to reach full-capacity at all 24 lines in Malaysia. Production would therefore equate to around 2GW.

Effectively, First Solar is only adding around 200MW of new capacity in 2015, although that additional new capacity rate would steadily increase to around 400MW in 2016, around 700MW in 2017 and around the same level of new capacity again in 2018.

The company highlighted that installed manufacturing capacity would therefore continue to increase through 2018, reaching around 3.5GW of CdTe thin-film production.

Line run-rates

First Solar said that it planned a step-function increase in manufacturing line run-rate through 2018. The company has spent nearly two years upgrading existing lines to improve module efficiencies and throughput, which resulted in each line achieving an average run-rate of 79MW and a US$0.63/W cost. By 2018, line run-rates could be well over 120MW, according to the company.

Split lines

A new development was the possibility of further reducing the capital cost of adding new lines, a key area of concern for thin-film technologies compared to conventional c-Si technologies.

First Solar noted that it could achieve a lower capex cost-per-watt with reduced installation and ramp times. However, the company highlighted the ability to split module/cell deposition processes (all under vacuum conditions) and then have the glass/glass modules final assembly and test undertaken separately and possibly at different locations. The company noted that the split line system was the lowest capex cost-per-watt idea.

Capex & guidance

The company said in guidance statement issued during the Analyst Day event that it expected capital expenditures in 2014 to be in the range of US$300 to US$350 million, up from US$282.6 million in 2013. 

First Solar guided net sales of US$3.7 billion to US$4.0 billion for 2014, up from US$3.3 billion in 2013.