First Solar (FSLR) is full of surprises today.

On the heels of announcing a new world record in cadmium telluride module efficiency, as well as guiding 2013 revenue beyond analyst predictions, First Solar just announced the acquisition of a small solar company.

The firm is TetraSun, a fourteen-person startup that has developed a silicon cell architecture able to hit 21 percent efficiency at low cost, according to claims. Terms for the acquisition from JX Nippon Oil & Energy and other investors were not disclosed. TetraSun is helmed by CEO Denis De Ceuster and has raised $12 million from equity investors and strategic customers including JX Nippon. CEO De Ceuster was at SunPower for ten years prior to joining TetraSun in 2009.

TetraSun completed a SunShot Initiative PV Incubator grant from the DOE and delivered a full area cell efficiency of more than 20 percent last year. According to a release, "TetraSun's new cell concept is based on a novel surface passivation technology that enables the use of 50-um-wide copper electrodes instead of screen-printed silver metallization. Without demanding special equipment for the manufacturing process, cell Voc values in excess of 700mV are achieved on monocrystalline Czochralski-grown silicon." The technology also has a lower temperature coefficient than typical silicon PV modules, according to First Solar.

First Solar has made the aggressive claim of beginning "commercial-scale manufacturing of the new technology in the second half of 2014."

It's a seemingly enormous step for First Solar, which acknowledges that it needs to “unlock the half of the PV market that favors high-efficiency solutions, which has been unserved by First Solar to date," in the words of First Solar CEO Jim Hughes. The CEO went on to use the words "distributed generation applications," a market that First Solar has not pursued until now. First Solar remains the leading EPC in utility-scale solar power plants.

If the technology from TetraSun scales inexpensively (see the list of deceased solar companies), it puts First Solar far more at odds with SunPower than it is even now. And it opens up the high-growth third-party-ownership residential market as well.

First Solar has led and abandoned development efforts in other materials systems such as CIGS.

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First Solar just announced full-year 2013 guidance on its 2013 analyst day in New York and came in far above consensus with a revenue guidance of $3.8 billion to $4.0 billion on shipments between 1.6 gigawatts and 1.8 gigawatts. An estimated $3.6 billion in the firm's sales will come from sales of systems. First Solar expects gross margin to be between 20 percent and 22 percent. According to a memo from its analyst day, First Solar looks to generate $0.8 billion to $1.0 billion of operating cash flow in 2013.  

The company also announced that its manufacturing cost will be $0.63 to $0.66 per watt in 2013, and will plunge to $0.40 per watt by 2017.

First Solar shares jumped on the news and trading was actually halted because of the stock's volatility. Other solar stocks such as SPWR, TSL, LDK, STP, and WFR also climbed higher today.

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