We manufacture and sell solar modules with an advanced thin film semiconductor technology, and we design, construct and sell photovoltaic (PV) solar power systems.
In addressing a growing global demand for PV solar electricity, we target markets with varying approaches depending on the underlying economics, market requirements and distribution channels. In subsidized feed-in tariff (FiT) markets, such as Germany, we have historically sold most of our solar modules to solar project developers, system integrators and independent power producers. In other markets, such as the United States, the demand for solar has been primarily driven by renewable portfolio standards requiring regulated utilities to supply a portion of their total electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar power. To meet the needs of these markets and enable balance of system cost reductions, we have developed a fully integrated systems business that can provide low-cost turn-key utility-scale PV system solutions for system owners and low cost electricity to utility end-users. By building a fully integrated systems business, we believe we are in a position to expand our business in transitional, and eventually economically sustainable markets (in which subsidies or incentives are minimal), which are expected to develop in areas with abundant solar resources and sizable electricity demand, such as the United States, China, India and parts of Europe. In the long-term, we plan on competing on an economic basis with conventional fossil fuel based peaking power generation.
In furtherance of our goal of delivering the lowest cost of solar energy and achieving price parity with conventional fossil-fuel based peak electricity generation, we are continually focused on reducing PV system costs in three primary areas: module manufacturing, Balance of System (BoS) costs (consisting of costs of components of a solar power system other than the solar modules, including inverters, mounting hardware, grid interconnection equipment, wiring and other devices, and installation labor costs), and cost of capital. First, with respect to our module manufacturing costs, our advanced technology has allowed us to reduce our average module manufacturing costs to the lowest in the world, based on publicly available information. In 2009, our total average manufacturing costs were $0.87 per watt, which we believe is significantly less than those of traditional crystalline silicon solar module manufacturers. By continuing to improve conversion efficiency and production line throughput, lower material cost and drive volume scale to further decrease overhead costs, we believe that we can further reduce our manufacturing costs per watt and maintain our cost advantage over traditional crystalline silicon solar module manufacturers. Second, by continuing to improve conversion efficiency, leverage volume procurement around standardized hardware platforms, and accelerate installation time, we believe we can continue to make substantial reductions in BoS costs, which represent over half of all costs associated with a typical utility-scale PV solar power system. Finally, we believe that continuing to strengthen our financial position, including our balance sheet and credit profile, will enable us to continue to lower the cost of capital associated with our solar power systems, thereby further enhancing the economic viability of our projects and lowering the cost of electricity generated by solar power systems that incorporate our modules and technology.
We are the world's largest PV solar module manufacturer and produced more than 1.1 gigawatts (GW) of solar modules in 2009, becoming the first PV company to attain this production volume in a single year. We manufacture our solar modules on high-throughput production lines and perform all manufacturing steps ourselves in an automated, proprietary, continuous process. Our solar modules employ a thin layer of semiconductor material to convert sunlight into electricity. Our manufacturing process eliminates the multiple supply chain operators and expensive and time consuming batch processing steps that are used to produce a crystalline silicon solar module. Currently, we manufacture our solar modules at our Perrysburg, Ohio, Frankfurt/Oder, Germany and Kulim, Malaysia manufacturing facilities (with additional manufacturing facilities planned for construction in Kulim, Malaysia and France) and conduct our research and development activities primarily at our Perrysburg, Ohio manufacturing facility.
Our fully integrated solar power systems business includes (i) project development, (ii) engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services, (iii) operating and maintenance (O&M) services, and (iv) project finance expertise, all as described in more detail below.
· Our project development group obtains land and land rights for the development of solar power plants incorporating our modules, negotiates long-term power purchase agreements (PPA) with potential purchasers of the electricity to be generated by those plants, manages the interconnection and transmission process, negotiates agreements to interconnect the plant to the electric grid and obtains the permits which are required prior to the construction of the plant, including applicable environmental and land use permits. Our project development portfolio and capabilities have grown significantly primarily as a result of our acquisition of the project development business of OptiSolar Inc. in April 2009, and our acquisition of certain assets from Edison Mission Group’s utility-scale solar project development pipeline in January 2010. We sell developed projects or projects under development to system operators who wish to own generating facilities, such as utilities, or to investors who are looking for long-term investment vehicles that are expected to generate consistent returns.
· We provide EPC services to projects developed by our project development business, projects developed by independent solar power project developers, and directly to system owners such as utilities. The procurement component of our EPC services includes deployment of our modules as well as balance of system components that we procure from third parties.
· For solar power plants which we have developed and built, we may provide ongoing O&M services to the system owner under long-term service agreements. These O&M services may include overseeing the day-to-day operation of the system, safety and security, maximizing energy production, and management of reliability, site services, power purchase agreement and other contractual compliance, environmental and permit compliance, regulatory requirements, recordkeeping, forecasting, warranty, preventative and scheduled maintenance, and spare parts inventory and may also include certain additional guarantees relating to the project.
· Our project finance group is primarily responsible for negotiating and executing the sale of utility-scale power plant systems incorporating our modules which allows us to optimize the value of our project development portfolio. This group is experienced in structuring non-recourse project debt financing in the bank loan market and institutional debt capital markets and raising project equity capital from tax oriented and strategic industry equity investors.
We believe that combining our reliable, low cost module manufacturing capability with our systems business enables us to more rapidly reduce the price of solar electricity, to accelerate the adoption of our technology in large scale systems and to further our mission to create enduring value by enabling a world powered by clean, affordable solar electricity.
We operate our business in two segments. Our components segment designs, manufactures and sells solar modules to solar project developers and system integrators. Through our systems segment, we have the capability to provide a complete PV solar power system for utility-scale or large commercial systems, which includes project development, EPC, O&M services and, when required, project finance. We view the sale of solar modules from the components segment as the core driver of our profitability, return on net assets and cash throughput, and we view our systems segment as an enabler to drive module throughput.
Our components segment, which is our principal business, involves the design, manufacture and sale of solar modules which convert sunlight to electricity.
Each solar module is approximately 2ft × 4ft (60cm × 120cm) and had an average rated power of approximately 75 watts, 73 watts, and 70 watts for 2009, 2008 and 2007, respectively. Our solar module is a single-junction polycrystalline thin film structure that uses cadmium telluride as the absorption layer and cadmium sulfide as the window layer. Cadmium telluride has absorption properties that are highly matched to the solar spectrum and has the potential to deliver competitive conversion efficiencies using only about 1% of the semiconductor material used by traditional crystalline silicon solar modules. Our thin film technology also has relatively high energy performance in low light and high temperature environments compared with traditional crystalline silicon solar modules.
Through our fully integrated systems business, we provide a complete PV solar power system solution, which includes project development, EPC services, O&M services and, when required, project finance.
Our systems business has grown over the past several years through a combination of business acquisitions and organic growth. On November 30, 2007, we completed the acquisition of Turner Renewable Energy, LLC, a privately held company which provided EPC services for commercial solar power projects in the United States. On April 3, 2009, we completed the acquisition of the project development business of OptiSolar Inc., which included a multi-gigawatt project pipeline. In January 2010, we completed the acquisition of certain assets from Edison Mission Group's solar project development pipeline consisting of utility-scale solar projects located primarily on private land in California and the Southwest.
In February 2006 we were incorporated as a Delaware corporation. Our common stock has been listed on The NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “FSLR” since our initial public offering in November 2006. In October 2009, our common stock was added to the S&P 500 Index, making First Solar the first, and currently only, pure-play renewable energy company in the index.
As of February 12, 2010, we had approximately 4,700 associates (our term for full and part-time employees), including approximately 3,900 in manufacturing. The remainder of our associates are in research and development, sales and marketing and general and administrative positions, including associates who are engaged in or support our systems business. None of our associates are currently represented by labor unions or covered by a collective bargaining agreement. As we expand domestically and internationally, however, we may encounter associates who desire union representation or a collective bargaining agreement. We believe that our relations with our associates are good.