First Solar achieves new world record for CdTe efficiency, reports dip in Q4 revenues but solid profitability

Researcher with PV cell
First Solar produced the world record thin film CdTe cell at its Perrysburg, Ohio factory. (First Solar)

Overshadowing its fourth quarter 2013 results, First Solar Inc. (Tempe, Arizona, U.S.) reports that its researchers have developed a world record 20.4% efficient cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film solar photovoltaic (PV) cell. This beats the previous CdTe record of 19.6% set by GE Global Research (Schenectady, NY) in 2013.

This efficiency was verified by Newport Corporation (Irvine, California, U.S.) and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL, Golden, Colorado, U.S.). First Solar built the cell at its factory and research and development (R&D) facility in the U.S. state of Ohio.

“This record marks another achievement in our mission to unlock the industry-changing potential of CdTe PV,” said First Solar Chief Technology Officer Raffi Garabedian. “We are demonstrating improvement in CdTe PV performance at a rate that dramatically outstrips the trajectory of conventional silicon technologies, which have already plateaued near their ultimate entitlements.”

“The synergy realized in our partnership with GE also demonstrates the value of our consistent and strong investment in R&D. The advanced technologies and processes we developed for this record-setting cell are already being commercialized and will positively impact performance of our future production modules and power plants.”

Dip in Q4 revenues as projects “slip out” to 2014

First Solar reported a 29% year-over-year fall in revenues to USD 768 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, a 7.8% operating margin and a net income of USD 65.3 million. The company says that it was not able to recognize revenue on all of the solar photovoltaic (PV) projects which it initially expected to, noting that some “slipped out” to 2014.

Detailed information on project completions was not included in First Solar's quarterly conference call. However, the results came the same day as the company was verified as the world's largest solar engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor in 2013 by IHS Inc. (Englewood, Colorado, U.S.).

Decision on yieldco a long way off

First Solar did report 400 MW of bookings during the quarter, and noted that a high percentage were related to its project business. Over the full year 2013 the company achieved a 1:1 book-to-bill ratio, with 1.7 GW in pipeline additions.

The company has also said that like many PV developers it is considering a yieldco structure, but notes that this involves a number of considerations and that any decision on this is a long way off.

Progress made with cost reduction, efficiency improvements

First Solar also made considerable progress in cost reduction, reporting a USD 0.56 per watt module manufacturing cost in the fourth quarter of 2013. This was achieved under conditions of 83% factory utilization, and First Solar notes that it has achieved its largest year-over-year decline in manufacturing cost per watt since 2010.

During the fourth quarter First Solar produced PV modules with an average efficiency of 13.4%, with its best lines producing 13.9% efficient modules at the end of the year. The company invested USD 38.4 million in R&D during the fourth quarter, or 5% of revenues.

In addition to its CdTe thin film PV, First Solar has also invested in high-efficiency crystalline silicon PV through its acquisition of TetraSun. First Solar notes that it is making progress with a pilot manufacturing line for TetraSun modules, but says that impacts in 2014 will be limited.

USD 800-900 million in Q1 2014 revenues

In the first quarter of 2014, First Solar expects USD 800-900 million in revenues. The company will provide further details during its analyst day on March 19th, 2014.



2014-02-25 | Courtesy: First Solar | © Heindl Server GmbH

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