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First Solar, Inc. is an American company that manufactures solar panels and provides electric power, mostly to companies that provide materials and supporting services to First Solar.


The company's innovation initially was to use the semiconductor material cadmium telluride for the construction of solar panels instead of crystalline silicon. The thin film photovoltaic cells produced from cadmium telluride can be made more cheaply than those made from the more traditional crystalline silicon.


First Solar was the first company to produce solar cells and solar panels for production costs under one dollar a watt when it achieved this milestone in 2009. Since then, it has managed to lower its porduction costs still further, to 73 cents per watt.


The company's founder was inventor Harold McMaster, who during his lifetime held over 100 patents and founded four different companies. McMaster founded Solar Cells, Inc. (the company's original name) in 1990. It was the inventor's second venture into solar energy.


His  first company, Glasstech Solar, was founded in the mid 1980s and was never successful. Solar Cells, Inc. pioneered McMaster's new method for manufacturing solar cells and did well enough that in 1999 it was purchased by True North Partners, LLC, who changed the name to First Solar.


The technology that First Solar uses to produce solar cells applies a thin film of cadmium telluride to glass. This method is cheaper to manufacture than traditional crystalline silicon solar cells, and also highly efficient. In 2011, First Solar achieved an efficiency of 17.3 percent (that is, conversion of 17.3 percent of solar energy into electricity), which surpassed the previous record achieved by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


Improved solar cell efficiency is also a factor in reduced solar cell cost. First Solar announced this year that it expects to achieve costs of 52 to 54 cents per watt by 2015. The gains are expected to come from improved production efficiency rather than any further expected breakthroughs in technology.


First Solar Market Success


Today, First Solar is the world's biggest manufacturer of solar panels. It achieved its success mainly due to the low costs of production of its solar cells. The company, which is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, has manufacturing plants and installations in many parts of the world, including France, Germany, Malaysia, and China, as well as in the United States. The total energy capacity of its product in 2012 was over 2.5 gigawatts.



Continued below..

First Solar

First Solar Market Success


Today, First Solar is the world's biggest manufacturer of cheap solar panels. It achieved its success mainly due to the low costs of production of its solar cells.



The company, which is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, has manufacturing plants and installations in many parts of the world, including France, Germany, Malaysia, and China, as well as in the United States. The total energy capacity of its product in 2012 was over 2.5 gigawatts.


First Solar's Recent Difficulties


In the final quarter of 2011, First Solar ran into losses of over $400 million, compared to net earnings of over $100 million for the final quarter of 2010.


Problems the company has encountered include uncertainty over future European subsidies for solar power as European governments enact austerity measures, together with competition from Chinese companies and a general overproduction of solar panels worldwide relative to global demand.


The company recently announced that it is eliminating its German operation and laying off 2000 employees, incurring substantial losses in the process. All solar power companies are facing similar difficulties, not just First Solar. However, its reasonable to expect that this is a temporary problem and that worldwide demand will accelerate in coming years due to further reduction in the cost of solar energy and rising fossil-fuel prices.


European subsidies for best solar panels helped create a situation in which demand and sales expanded each year. Germany and Italy accounted for more than half of the global solar demand in 2011, a situation that does not reflect economic reality and could not reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely.


Production capacity expanded to meet this increased demand, but cutbacks in renewable-energy subsidies by governments in Europe have combined with this expansion in capacity to create a glut on the market.


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