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Solar Tech Outlook

Manufacturers scale up for utility applications.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2010

minimizes transmission costs. This reduces financial and business risks. Most importantly, with our smart energy module (SEM), we inject reactive and nonlinear power to help heal the grid. In addition, given that our SEM has built in smart-grid mesh radios, the utility gets the added benefit of deploying a smart-grid communications infrastructure with the solar deployment for practically no added cost. SunWave systems have a built-in array of grid sensors. That all allows the utility to use our systems for voltage optimization, outage detection and many other grid-reliability applications. Our installed systems cost no more than other utility-scale solar systems. However, given the shovel-ready nature of SunWave, coupled with the smart-grid and grid-reliability benefits, we end up with the best ROI and the most cost-effective utility-scale solar technology option on the market today. That explains why we’re building the country’s largest PV project.

Gillette, First Solar: When you look at all the factors involved, I would have to say the most affordable, proven, utility-scale solar option available today is First Solar’s thin-film photovoltaic (PV) technology.

I say this for several reasons: We were the first solar company to break the $1 per watt barrier for manufacturing PV panels. We did this in early 2009, and at the end of the first quarter of this year, our per-watt cost was at 81 cents and continuing to fall. No one else has a lower cost per watt. In addition, we are significantly lowering our balance of system cost from about $1.40 per watt at the start of last year to a targeted 91 to 98 cents per watt by 2014.

We also have the manufacturing capacity to meet utility-scale demand. Our current annual capacity is about 1,300 MW, we have eight new manufacturing lines beginning production in Malaysia in the first quarter of 2011, and just last month we announced a significant expansion of our existing plant on Frankfurt-Oder in Germany that will be operational in the fourth quarter of 2011. So we have planned manufacturing capacity growth of 780 MW, and by the end of 2011, we will have the ability to manufacture 2.1 GW per year of PV panels. More than 2 GW of our panels have been installed worldwide.

We’ve also demonstrated repeatedly that we can help build or supply utility-scale projects, including: the 53-MW Lieberose facility in Germany; a 30-MW project we just sold in New Mexico; a 48-MW project under construction in Nevada; and an 80-MW project in Canada that will be the world’s largest PV project when completed later this year.

Finally, we also have a sizeable development pipeline with 2.2 GW already under power-purchase agreements that include three large California facilities: the 550-MW Desert Sunlight project, the 550-MW Topaz Solar project, and the 300-MW Stateline project. We’re in the utility-scale business, and we’re here to stay.

So, we have a proven product at the lowest cost per watt, we have utility-scale manufacturing capacity, and we have a team that’s experienced in utility scale development and project construction. I’m not saying other solar technologies don’t have some good