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First Solar

First Solar is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona in the United States. The company focuses on producing thin film PV modules as well as providing supporting services such as finance, construction, and maintenance to solar power plants. Because CdTe is toxic, First Solar also provides recycling and reclamation programs for its panels. According to the First Solar website, the companies installations have displaced more than 3.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

The company began in 1984 under the name Glasstech Solar to manufacture thin film, low cost solar cells. Though silicon was initially tried, the company landed on cadmium telluride (CdTe) in 1990 as the best solution. Glasstech was sold to Truth North Partners in 1999 and at that point was renamed First Solar. In 2005 the company reached an annual production of 25 megawatts and in 2009 reached an annual production of more than one gigawatt, making it the largest PV manufacturer in the world. The company maintains manufacturing facilities in the United States (Ohio), Germany, and Malaysia.

Worldwide Installations

Germany – The Germans adopted solar technology early in its lifecycle. As a result, the two largest thin-film solar plants are located in Germany. The 9 gigawatt per year Stadtwerke Trier and the 40 megawatt Walkdpolenz Solar Park are both located in Germany.

Italy – First Solar supplied 13,000 modules for installation on the roof of the Bentegodi Sport Stadium in Verona.

United States – First Solar thin film panels are found at the 10 megawatt El Dorado Solar Power Plant in Nevada and at the 550 megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in California. The 48 megawatt Copper Mountain Solar 1 plant was completed in 2010 using 775,000 thin film panels and requires no water. A 30 megawatt facility was built in New Mexico and a 21 megawatt facility was constructed in California, both using First Solar thin film panels. The total number of solar plants in the U.S. using First Solar technology currently stands four. There are two plants under construction including the 50 megawatt Silver State North facility in Nevada and the 290 megawatt Agua Caliente facility in California. First Solar is in discussions regarding four other plants that may be constructed in the United States in the near future; all plants are 230 megawatts or greater.

China – A memorandum of agreement was signed to build a 2 gigawatt plant in Inner Mongolia using thin film modules from First Solar.

Canada – The Sarnia Solar Project in Ontario was completed in 2009 with a capacity of 20 megawatts. By the third quarter of 2010 the plant will reach 80 megawatts and offer power to nearly 13,000 households.

Cost

Cost is a large consideration in solar technology. First Solar produces panels with the lowest cost per watt of any PV system at $0.75. Traditional silicon panels generally cost around $1.85 per watt. Both of these figures are still substantially above the $0.15 per watt average for grid electricity. First Solar expects to be able to produce panels at the cost of 50 cents per watt by 2014.

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