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Published on April 10th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

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First Solar Stock Surges On 3 Big Announcements

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April 10th, 2013 by Zachary Shahan 

Haven’t had enough First Solar news lately? No worries, below are three big stories (or four, depending on how you count them) about this top solar company:

Reposted from El Solar Love:

If I was a gambler, I’d put some of my money on First Solar (and, to be honest, I’m thinking about it). Some of its latest big announcements, which I’ll discuss in more detail below, include: crushing the set a new world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) module conversion efficiency (bringing the record up from 14.4% to 16.1%); acquiring TetraSun (which will probably lead to some more world records); announcing an attractive full-year 2013 guidance and some positive summary financial targets through 2015.

World Record Efficiency

First Solar's R&D team in Perrysburg, Ohio.  Photo Credit: Business Wire

First Solar’s R&D team in Perrysburg, Ohio.
Photo Credit: Business Wire

First, in a statement published yesterday, First Solar wrote: “First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) today announced it set a new world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) module conversion efficiency, achieving a record 16.1 percent total area module efficiency in tests confirmed by the U.S. Departmentof Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The new record is a substantial increase over the prior record of 14.4 percent efficiency, which the Company set in January 2012. Separately, First Solar also set a record for CdTe open circuit voltage (VOC), a critical parameter for PV performance, reaching 903.2 millivolts (mV) in NREL-certified testing. This new record marks the first substantial increase in CdTe VOC in over a decade of international R&D. The new records come just six weeks after First Solar announced a new world record for CdTe solar cell efficiency of 18.7 percent.”

Yep, from the looks of it, First Solar is a record-breaking fiend. That might also explain why it’s the #1 solar developer and #2 solar module manufacturer in the world.

Going on: “Transferring its success in the R&D lab to its commercial modules, First Solar also launched a new evolution of its proven Series 3 thin-film PV module platform, the Series 3 BlackTM, which incorporates First Solar’s latest advances in conversion efficiency as well as additional features to enhance its performance in utility-scale power plants. The all-black module’s change in appearance results from the use of an advanced, all-black edge seal technology combined with an innovative encapsulation material that further enhances its field durability and demonstrates improvements in accelerated life testing results.”

Remind you of something? Perhaps SunPower’s new X-Series solar panels (which are quite black themselves and also hold a world record in efficiency).



For more details on First Solar’s new modules, check out its press release on them. One last thing I’ll note from this release is that the company is now moving forward its efficiency roadmaps because of the faster than expected improvements:

“Based on the Company’s record-setting technology and robust Series 3 Black platform, the Company also has accelerated its module conversion efficiency roadmap, raising its lead production line module efficiency target for 2015 to 15-16.2 percent. First Solar also extended its module conversion efficiency roadmap to 2017, with targets for lead production line module efficiency of 16.2-16.9 percent in 2016 and 16.4-17.1 percent in 2017.”

I spoke with First Solar’s CTO in January at the latest International Renewable Energy Conference (part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week), at which point he mentioned that they had some big news coming out within a few months (but which he couldn’t yet disclose). I have a feeling the above is what he was referring to, or perhaps it was the story below.

Acquiring TetraSun

TetraSun has developed breakthrough solar cell architecture. Photo Credit: Business Wire

TetraSun has developed breakthrough solar cell architecture. First Solar now has it. Photo Credit: Business Wire

To further bolster its efficiency world records, First Solar has also gone and bought TetraSun. TetraSun, as the release noted, is “a solar photovoltaic (PV) technology startup which has developed a break-through cell architecture capable of conversion efficiencies exceeding 21 percent with commercial-scale manufacturing costs comparable to conventional multicrystalline silicon solar cells.”

While the first story above makes clear that First Solar has a pretty tremendous in-house R&D team, and I’ve mostly seen its advancements coming out of that, purchasing a little bit of breakthrough technology (and the innovators who created it) can’t hurt. Regarding the TetraSun innovators, all 14 of them are now joining First Solar, some of whom have previously worked at SunPower (remember that note above?) and Fraunhofer, a world-leading research institute based in Germany. Here are some more details on the acquisition and TetraSun technology:

First Solar signed a definitive agreement to acquire TetraSun from JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation and other investors, including TetraSun management. Terms of the transaction, which is expected to close in the second quarter of 2013, were not disclosed. First Solar and JX Nippon Oil & Energy also have entered into discussions on an agreement to distribute the technology in Japan.

TetraSun’s core technology is a proprietary cell architecture which breaks the historical tie between high-efficiency and high-cost. Compared to other high-efficiency crystalline silicon cells, TetraSun’s advanced cell design is simpler and optimized for manufacturing, requiring fewer process steps with wider tolerances. The design enables high-volume production with higher yields using readily available equipment. Cost-effectiveness is further enhanced by using large-format (156 mm) n-type wafers and eliminating the need for expensive silver and transparent conductive oxide (TCO). The technology also benefits from a low temperature coefficient of power, which produces superior energy yields in hot climates compared to typical silicon PV modules. First Solar tentatively plans to begin commercial-scale manufacturing of the new technology in the second half of 2014.

“This breakthrough technology will unlock the half of the PV market which favors high-efficiency solutions, which has been unserved by First Solar to date,” said Jim Hughes, CEO of First Solar. “This new capability to meet the needs of customers with distributed generation applications, coupled with our leading CadTel offering which remains the benchmark for utility-scale systems, gives us a unique end-to-end suite of solutions to serve the full spectrum of commercial applications.”

Most likely, by “the PV market which favors high-efficiency solutions,” Hughes is referring to rooftop solar. Of course, there are some other segments as well, but I think that’s the big one for that portion of the market.

For a couple more quotes on this acquisition, see the full First Solar press release.

Financial Guidance

If the above wasn’t enough good news for you, First Solar has even more:

For 2013, First Solar expects total module shipments to be between 1.6GW and 1.8GW and net sales of $3.8 and $4.0 billion, including approximately $3.6 billion in net sales from systems sales. Consolidated gross margin is expected to be between 20 and 22 percent. Excluding up to $10 million in restructuring expense as previously announced, diluted EPS is expected to be between $4.00 and $4.50, and consolidated operating income is expected to be between$430 and $460 million. The Company expects to generate $0.8 to $1.0 billion of operating cash flow and plans for approximately $350 to $400 million in capital expenditures in 2013. Working capital is expected to decrease by between $50 and $200 million from 2012. The Company noted that revenue recognition for the Desert Sunlight project is currently expected to begin in the second half of 2013 and conclude by late 2014. This assumption is reflected in the Company’s 2013 guidance and 2014 outlook.

In addition to the 2013 detailed guidance, the Company also provided a summary outlook for 2014 and 2015 as follows:

2014 Target 2015 Target
Module Shipments 1.8 to 2.2GW 2.3 to 2.7GW
Net Sales $3.5 to $4.0Billion $4.2 to $4.8Billion
Earnings Per Fully Diluted Share $2.50-$4.00 $4.00-$6.00
Operating Cash Flow $500 to $800Million $600Million to $1Billion

Stock Jumps

Naturally, with so much good news, First Solar stock has jumped considerably. From Reuters: “First Solar shares logged their biggest ever one-day jump on Tuesday after the company said revenue and earnings for the next three years would be well above most Wall Street estimates and announced that it would acquire a new solar technology.”

The jump? 45% or $12.31 (up to $39.35) on the New York Stock Exchange. Not too shabby.

No, I have no financial interest or ties to the company, but maybe it’s about time I jump on board. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, and while jumping in right after a steep rise may not be advisable, it’s worth noting that this is nowhere near the company’s all-time high. “They hit a high of $41 earlier in the session, a level unseen in more than a year, but still far below the $300 the stock traded for five years ago,” Reuters adds.

As far as the unexpected departure of First Solar’s executive vice president of global business, Jim Brown, we’re still not quite sure what happened there.

And if you missed some of First Solar’s other recent news, it recently acquired a 150 MW solar power plant in Imperial County, CA; and became an investor in the massive Desertec project in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • Giorgos

    I am working for a project about the CdTe solar panels. Nowadays I am looking for prices/watt about these type of PV modules, especially for the First Solar Series 3 – FS3100 PLUS (100W). Does anybody know what is the approximate price/watt for this PV module?

  • A Fan of Solar

    I am so happy I have invested in First Solar Stock. It is one company out there that feels so full of integrity. I wish there was a way to stop all that nuclear waste from dumping into the ocean. Glad solar won’t create such a gigantic problem for the sea world and earth creatures including us.

  • arne-nl

    I have First Solar stock :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

    One of the problems of Cadmium Telluride material is that the CdTe is a very hazardous material. I has a certain degree of solubility in plain water and can be easily etched and become unstable at high temperatures. While cheap now, there could be price to pay when the panels deteriorate. I hope this is being aggressively addressed.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “A byproduct of mining, Sinha explained, cadmium is highly toxic and carcinogenic. Exposure can cause lung, kidney or liver pathology or failure. In the presence of tellurium, however, cadmium forms a crystalline lattice that is highly stable (high boiling point, low vapor pressure, low solubility). “It likes to be a solid,” Dr. Sinha said. “It is several orders of magnitude — a factor of 100 — less toxic than cadmium.”

      CdTe is still a potentially toxic material. But the way it is encapsulated in glass in First Solar panels, Sinha said, sharply limits the possibility of inhalation or ingestion exposure.

      “The semiconductor material is bonded to a sheet of glass under very high temperature,” Sinha explained. “An industrial laminate material, ethyl vinyl acetate, a type of plastic, encapsulates the semiconductor and seals it between a second piece of glass.”

      Freeing the CdTe from the laminate is the biggest challenge of recycling, Sinha said. It would take a very rare and daunting set of circumstances to both free the CdTe and release cadmium.”

      http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/how-safe-is-first-solars-cdte-thin-film

      “The U.S. CdTe PV industry is vigilant in preventing health risks and has established proactive programs in industrial hygiene and environmental control. Workers’ exposure to cadmium compounds in PV manufacturing facilities is controlled by rigorous industrial hygiene practices and is monitored by frequent medical tests. Results of years of biomonitoring have shown that there are no significant observed increases in levels of worker exposure [2].”

      “Toxic compounds cannot cause any adverse health effects unless they enter the human body in harmful doses. The only pathways by which people might be exposed to PV compounds from a finished module are by accidentally ingesting flakes or dust particles, or inhaling dust and fumes.

      The thin CdTe/CdS layers are stable and solid and are encapsulated between thick layers of glass. Unless the module is purposely ground to a fine dust, dust particles cannot be generated. The vapor pressure of CdTe at ambient conditions is zero. Therefore, it is impossible for any vapors or dust to be generated when using PV modules. ”

      http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy03osti/33561.pdf

      • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

        FYI Bob: “Cadmium compounds are experimental carcinogens. The oral toxicity of Cd and its compounds is high. However, when these materials are ingested, the irritant and emetic action is so violent that little of the Cd is absorbed and fatal poisoning does not occur as a
        rule. Cases of human Cd poisoning have been reported
        from ingestion of food or beverages prepared or stored in Cd plated containers. The inhalation of fumes or dusts of Cd primarily
        effects the respiratory tract; the kidneys may also be affected. Even brief exposure to highconcentrations may result in pulmonary edema and death. Usually the edema is not massive,
        with little pleural effusion. In fatal cases, fatty degeneration of the liver and acuteinflammatory changes in the kidneys have been noted. Ingestion of Cd results in gastro-intestinal type of poisoning in its symptoms. Inhalation of dust or fumes may cause dryness of the throat, cough, headache, a sense of constriction in the chest, shortness of breath (syspnea) and vomiting. More severe exposure results in the marked lung changes, with persistent cough, pain in the chest, severe dyspnea and prostration which may terminate
        fatally. X-ray changes are usually similar to those seen in bronchi-
        pneumonia. The urine is frequently dark.

        These symptoms are usually delayed for some hours after expos
        ure, and fatal concentrations may be breathed without sufficient discomfort to warn the workpersons to leave the exposure. There is some evidence of teratogenicity. Ingestion of Cd results in
        sudden nausea, salivation, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pa
        in and discomfort. Symptoms begin almost immediately after ingestion. A yellow discoloration of the teeth has been
        reported in workers exposed to Cd. Cadmium oxide fumes can cause metal fume fever resembling that caused by zinc oxide fumes.”

        From: http://www.angstromsciences.com/products/pvd-materials/pvd-materials-list/c/msds/Cadmium-Telluride-MSDS.pdf

        • Bob_Wallace

          You’re missing the point. The CdTe in solar panels is not in a form in which it can be ingested or inhaled.

          The lead in your car battery would poison you if you pulled it out of the battery, ground it up and snorted it.

          Glass will kill you if you grind it up and swallow it.

        • arne-nl

          Copy-pasting the effects of cadmium poisoning is not of much help, unless you plan on degrading the debate to cheap FUD. That should be beneath you.

          As I wrote above: there are far, far bigger and more dangerous sources of cadmium to rally against than these solar panels. And these sources are routinely spouting their cadmium into the environment NOW.

          The cadmium release from burned solar panels is pure conjecture and you have not brought a single shred of evidence.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “The flame temperatures in typical U.S. residential fires are not high enough to vaporize CdTe; flame temperatures in roof fires are in the 800o–900oC range, and, in basement rooms, in the 900o–1000oC range [9]. The melting point of CdTe is 1041oC, and evaporation starts at 1050 oC. Sublimation occurs at lower temperatures, but the vapor pressure of CdTe at 800C is only 2.5 torr (0.003 atm). The melting point of CdS is 1750oC, and its vapor pressure due to sublimation is only 0.1 torr at 800oC.

      Preliminary studies at Brookhaven [10] and at the GSF Institute of Chemical Ecology in Germany [11] showed that CdTe releases are unlikely to occur during residential fires or during accidental breakage. The thin layers of CdTe and CdS are sandwiched between glass plates; at typical flame temperatures (800o–1000°C), these compounds would be encapsulated inside the molten glass so that any Cd vapor emissions would be unlikely. In any case, the fire itself and other sources of emissions within the burning structure are expected to pose an incomparably greater hazard than any potential Cd emissions from PV systems.”

      http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy03osti/33561.pdf

      • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

        FYI Bob: http://www.angstromsciences.com/products/pvd-materials/pvd-materials-list/c/msds/Cadmium-Telluride-MSDS.pdf

        “Material may emit toxic fumes of Cd and Te if

        involved in a fire, or upon contact with acids

        or acidic fumes”

        • Bob_Wallace

          Thats CdTe in a powdered form and not encapsulated in glass as is the case with solar panels.

          • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

            When they crack when torn down or replaced later, it could become brittle from the elements and solar radiation, so some of the stuff can turn back to powder during dismantling and you might inhale them. That is why we need the MSDS and the need to be really cautious. That’s all the point I am taking instead of getting excited at the now moment.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Horse shit.

          • CaptD

            Salute to Bob_Wallace

            We are seeing lots of new comments designed to downplay all discussion about the “benefits” and/or use of Solar (of all flavors). Thanks for taking your time to call out these $ILLY comments, don’t stop!

          • arne-nl

            Glass doesn’t deteriorate, it is one of the most stable and durable materials we have. And if the glass cracks, the panel must be replaced. It is broken. So, unless you let a non-functioning system sit on your roof for years, no cracked panels will ever catch fire.

            You are ignoring the elephant in the room: coal plants. Point your Cd anger against coal. Coal power plants are the major source of cadmium (and lots of other heavy metals). But sure, these were already there when you were born, so you don’t question them and accept it as a fact of life. But when there is new technology, then suddenly your critical thinking seems to kick in overdrive.

            I wouldn’t be surprised that, if you do the math, all the cadmium released from all the (fictitious) solar panel fires combined probably will emit less cadmium into the environment as one coal plant emits in 1 week of operation.

            You’re barking up the wrong tree, go after the sources of cadmium that really matter.

  • Wayne Williamson

    I think the stock price of 12 was incorrect…12.31 to 39.35 would be over 200%

    • Wayne Williamson

      I thought of buy some of their stock a couple of years ago, but choose AMSC instead…bad mistake;-)

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        Not sure what you mean by “a couple of years ago,” but its share price used to be in the hundreds, so if it was at that time, it’s good you didn’t buy then. I’d think this company will succeed, will survive the solar shakeout and prosper, and will be worth a lot again in the long term. But I’m no stockbroker, so don’t take my word for it. Here’s a statement on its stock glory days to date:

        “From its starting price of $20, the share price broke $300 in April 2008, and for years the price bounced between the $100 and $200 range.”

        http://www.energyandcapital.com/resources/first-solar-inc-nasdaq-fslr

        • Wayne Williamson

          I see what you mean…thanks.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      sorry, they rose by $12.31

  • http://xeeme.com/MrEnergyCzar MrEnergyCzar

    Be careful of China’s low prices and high gov’t subsidy, hard to compete on the same footing…

    MrEnergyCzar

    • Bob_Wallace

      First Solar has a different model. They are building large solar farms using their panels and then selling the farms to investors.

      That gives them a profit stream even when the panel market itself isn’t so hot.

      The tariffs on Chinese panels should have wiped out most of their government subsidy effect.

  • Kevin Adams

    Yay! It’s First Solar vs. SunPower, we consumers need the competition! It’s good to have good choices. Competition, drive that innovation!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhodomel.meads Rhodomel Meads

    Higher efficiency will matter a lot especially if the space is limited, for example, in urban settings where land is a premium. In desert or non-agricultural areas where land is practically dirt cheap purchased or leased, the total installed cost per watt matters more than the efficiency. In farmlands where they have their own water reservoir, solar panels can be installed on floats over water and can help many ways by not using land, minimizing water evaporation, and generating clean electricity.

    • jburt56

      And there’s one HUGE reservoir down there–Lake Meade.

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