As one of the largest solar companies based in the United States, chances are you’ve heard of First Solar. Headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, this company has been in the news recently, in part due to the unique solar product they manufacture.
First Solar company overview
With more than 17 gigawatts (GW) of First Solar panels installed worldwide, First Solar is a major player in the solar energy space. First Solar is unique for the type of solar technology it manufactures and installs. While most solar panel manufacturers make their products out of silicon, First Solar produces and sells thin film solar panels using cadmium telluride as its material of choice.
The company is also unique in that it only works on utility-scale solar projects. According to the First Solar website, the company “has developed, financed, engineered, constructed and currently operates many of the world’s largest grid-connected PV power plants.” First Solar refers to itself as “vertically integrated”, meaning that it is involved in every level of utility solar installations, from manufacturing the solar panels to providing operations and maintenance services for its installed arrays.
The solar tariff and First Solar panels
When President Trump levied a solar tariff on solar imports to the United States in January 2018, many solar companies and products were affected to varying degrees. First Solar has been affected by the new tariff, but not in the way you might expect.
Trump’s tariff is on imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules. Because First Solar panels are thin-film panels based on cadmium-telluride technology, it does not see any negative impact from the tariff. This means that the already competitive pricing of First Solar’s panels became even more enticing, as silicon panel companies may have to raise their prices slightly to cover for their newly increased import costs.
Thin film solar panels manufactured by First Solar
The numbers are already indicating that the next few years will be massive for First Solar. In 2017, with news of the possible solar tariff looming, the company booked a record 7.7 GW of solar modules. Now, First Solar has a backlog of module orders that its employees expect to be working on and shipping through 2020 and beyond.
First Solar has found itself in a very unique situation due to its unique technology – the company can continue to rely on overseas manufacturing (mainly in South Asia) while benefiting from a tariff that hinders everyone but U.S. solar producers. Like any smart company would do, it is taking full advantage of its new situation and ramping up production capacity to meet a newfound demand for its product.
To keep up with this demand, the company has begun factory projects in Malaysia and Vietnam, and announced in June 2021 that it will invest $680 million to expand its domestic manufacturing of solar panels by 3.3 GW. Once this new domestic facility–which will be located in Northwest Ohio–is operational, it is poised to be the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside of China.
To learn about the tariff’s potential impact on the U.S. solar industry, check out our analysis of the tariff and what it could mean for solar installers and customers.
Homeowners won’t be able to get First Solar’s solar panels
What does this all mean for residential and commercial solar customers? For all intents and purposes, the rise of First Solar in the solar tariff era will have no impact on individuals looking to install solar. This is because First Solar doesn’t touch the residential or commercial markets at all – it only develops utility-scale projects. If you have seen First Solar’s name in the news recently, it is likely due to the company’s exemption from the solar tariff, and not because of a product they offer for homeowners and small businesses considering solar.
While residential and commercial solar shoppers can’t get quotes for an installation with First Solar panels, there are many solar installation companies that install high-quality panels at competitive prices. Companies like Panasonic, LG, and SunPower manufacture top tier solar panels that local solar companies can offer homeowners in their solar quotes. By registering your property on the EnergySage Marketplace, qualified installers offering the best solar products near you can submit solar quotes for your property that you can compare side by side to determine the best deal for your unique home.
For homeowners thinking about taking advantage of solar energy, it is important to consider all of your options before committing to a solar installation company. When you work with a pre-screened solar company on EnergySage, you can ensure you will get a great deal on a solar energy system so you can start generating electricity directly from the sun.