First Solar to triple US module capacity; sPower signs multi-GW tracker deal

Our pick of the latest solar news you need to know.

First Solar to build 1.2 GW solar module factory in Ohio

U.S. solar module manufacturer First Solar is to build a 1.2 GW solar module factory in Lake Township, Ohio to produce its technology Series 6 thin-film module.

The new solar factory will add to the 600 MW of Series 6 manufacturing capacity at First Solar’s Perrysburg facility, Ohio.

"Strong demand in the U.S. for advanced solar technology, along with recent changes in U.S. corporate tax policies, have encouraged our decision to grow First Solar’s U.S. production operations,” Mike Koralewski, First Solar’s Senior Vice President of Global Manufacturing, said in a statement April 26.

First Solar's expansion drive comes after President Trump imposed in January a 30% tariff on imported crystalline-silicon solar cells and modules, denting the competitiveness of rivals to First Solar's thin-film technology.

In 2017, First Solar invested $175 million to equip the Perrysburg manufacturing plant to produce its new Series 6 module. In April 2018, the Perrysburg facility re-started an idled production line to meet continued demand for its Series 4 product.

The planned 1.2 GW factory will require a capital investment of around $400 million and will create around 500 jobs. Plans will be finalized following negotiations of state and local incentive packages, First Solar said.

"State and local officials and JobsOhio have also worked with us to create a business-friendly environment that supported our objectives. These factors, combined with our own economies of scale in high tech manufacturing, make expanding U.S. operations an attractive, win-win opportunity,” the company said.

To date, First Solar has sold over 17 GW of solar modules globally.

SPower signs multi-GW deal with tracker supplier Array Technologies

SPower, the U.S.' largest private owner of solar assets, has signed a three-year partnership deal with tracker manufacturer Array Technologies to do "multi-gigawatts of business over the coming years," the companies announced May 2.

An increasing number of U.S. developers are installing one axis trackers to benefit from higher returns over the lifetime of the project, according to a study published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in September 2017.

One-axis trackers incur higher installation costs than fixed-tilt projects but provide a lower levelized cost of energy (LCOE), NREL said in its 'Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark' report. Tracking systems were used on 80% of U.S. utility scale projects in 2016, compared with 70% in 2015, it said.

“The LCOE is what investors really care about...You have a higher upfront capital cost at year zero, however when you look at whole cash flow from year zero to end of system life, the payback is better for one-axis tracking systems,” Ran Fu, lead-author of the NREL report, told New Energy Update in October.

                    Modelled LCOE for fixed-tilt, one-axis trackers
                                                          (Click image to enlarge)

Source: NREL's 'U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2017' report (September 2017).

Global solar tracker shipments rose 32% in 2017 to 14.5 GW and are forecast to rise by a further 30% in 2018, GTM Research said in a report published in February.

For the first time, Latin America overtook the U.S. as the largest tracker market.

“Mexico and Brazil are two of the fastest-growing solar markets in the world, each accounting for over 1.5 GW of tracker shipments in 2017," Scott Moskowitz, senior analyst at GTM Research and author of the study, said.

Nextracker and Array Technologies maintained first and second position in the global tracker market in 2017.

                  Global tracker shipments by supplier in 2017
                                                        (Click image to enlarge)

Source: GTM Research.

While intense solar price competition and market consolidation continues to compress vendor margins, tracker sales volumes are expected to remain strong, GTM Research said.

“Fundamentals in the global utility-scale solar industry are excellent, and trackers are an obvious choice in most developing solar markets,” Moskowitz said.

“We expect 30% growth in 2018, with shipments approaching 20 GW," he said.

New Energy Update