IW 50 Best: First Solar's Expansion Efforts Power Ahead

New U.S. and Vietnam plants combined with other recent expansion efforts will double production capacity.

First Solar Inc. is making more solar panels than it can handle, so the Tempe, Ariz.-based manufacturer is expanding with a new plant in the United States and a facility in Vietnam.

"We are sold out," says First Solar spokesman Alan Bernheimer. "Basically demand exceeds our manufacturing capacity to supply."

The new plants combined with previously announced expansions will nearly double production capacity to more than 2.7 gigawatts in 2012. The plants are expected to be completed in 2012 and will employ approximately 600 people each. They will be designed to accommodate additional production capacity.

First Solar previously announced capacity additions, including eight lines at its Kulim, Malaysia, facility; four lines in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany; and two lines in Blanquefort, France. Earlier this year the company also completed an expansion of its Perrysburg, Ohio, plant near Toledo, which serves as the company's primary hub for engineering and research and development.

"These expansions provide proximity to growing U.S. demand while supporting our roadmap to drive down the cost of clean, sustainable solar electricity," said First Solar CEO Rob Gillette when the plans for the new plants were announced on Oct. 14.

First Solar hasn't selected a U.S. site yet, but the company has narrowed down potential locations, Bernheimer says.

Negotiations and site assessments are ongoing in both countries and will be finalized and announced at a later date, the company said.

The company is looking at specific regions based on a variety of site-selection factors, according to Bernheimer. Some of these parameters include manufacturing and operating costs, proximity to end markets, access to a qualified workforce, tax incentives and supply chain issues such as the availability of raw-materials.

While the company has not indicated which states it's targeting for the new U.S. plant, its largest domestic markets are in California and the Southwest, Bernheimer says.

The Vietnam plant will help meet demand for the growing Southeast Asia market. The company has discussed opening plants in China and India in the past, but Vietnam has solar resources that made it an attractive location, Bernheimer says.

The company will report its third-quarter financial results on Oct. 28.


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