U.S. First Solar PV Panels Cheaper
Than China Made Panels
September 15, 2016
First Solar, Inc., a U.S. Solar Panel Manufacturer, is now making solar panels for less than Trina Solar, Ltd, China’s biggest producer, according to Chris Martin of Bloomberg News. The company which has been very successful in the utility-scale segment has more than justified the $3 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. Government.
First Solar’s $775 million investment in technology has enabled the company to produce solar panels for as little as 40 cents per watt, some 15% less than China’s Trina Solar, Ltd. Analysts estimate the company can drive that cost down to around 25 cents per watt by 2019.
The company’s secret sauce lies in its technology. First Solar uses a thin film technology, which has the room to improve to as much as 30% [efficiency in converting sunlight into energy] according to Raffi Garabedian, First Solar’s chief technology officer. His team reached a record 22.1 percent efficiency in a laboratory cell this year, using improvements that will find their way into the manufacturing process, and the company’s solar panels.
The theoretical peak efficiency for pure mono-crystalline cells is 29 percent. Because of cost, it is not widely used in mass produced solar panels. Poly-crystalline cells which are the most common cells used in mass produced panels, and the type cells in which China companies are heavily invested, is approaching its maximum efficiency limit. Trina Solar, a Chinese company, holds the laboratory record of 21.3 percent.
First Solar’s investments over the past 5 years have lowered manufacturing costs and increased efficiency of it modules by some 50%. The company is introducing two new products next year and in 2019 that are using larger manufacturing equipment to make larger panels at lower cost – a business strategy used by the flat-screen television industry. This is a game-changer for the Chinese Companies.
Jeffrey Osborne, a Cowen & Co. analyst in New York, in an interview said: “The Chinese have hit a wall in terms of polysilicon costs and technology…. There aren’t a lot of levers left for them to pull and their labor costs are rising.”
Source: Bloomberg News, Cheaper Than China Again, First Solar Vindicates U.S. Investment, by Chris Martin, April 14, 2016.
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