After it started the commercial production of thin-film solar panels in 2002, First Solar can now claim to have made 1 gigawatt of them.
The Tempe, Ariz.-based company said it churned out 500 megawatts just within the past year. It's been building new production lines in the United States and Malaysia, and expects to have the capacity to manufacture 1 gigawatt per year by the end of 2009.
It's not the kind of news that would lift the company's stock, but it's worth noting for a company that needs to continue to impress its investors. First Solar doesn't seem to have suffered some of the production and management missteps committed by competitors. But its executives' bearish outlook for the solar market in the near term did send its stock down more than 14 percent last month.
First Solar is the largest thin-film solar panel maker in a world dominated by makers of crystalline silicon panels. First Solar uses a compound of cadmium and tellurium as an active ingredient for converting sunlight into electricity. A number of crystalline silicon panel makers already have passed the 1-gigawatt production milestone, including Suntech Power Holdings.
It's important for solar energy equipment makers to beef up production in order to make goods cheaply. So companies like to boast their manufacturing prowess, even though what they are able to produce doesn't always translate into what they actually roll out of their factory lines. Some solar energy equipment companies have had to idle some of their production lines or halt manufacturing altogether, albeit temporarily.
Energy Conversion Devices in Rochester Hills, Mich., for example, is laying off 70 employees and plans to stop producing its solar thin films for two weeks starting on March 22 (see Energy Conversion to Halt Solar Equipment Production Temporarily). OptiSolar, a startup in Hayward, Calif., halted production altogether this week and is selling its business (see OptiSolar Shuts Production, Lays Off 200).
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