Ahearn steers First Solar towards new markets

04. November 2011 | Markets & Trends, Global PV markets | By:  Jonathan Gifford / Hans-Chrisoph Neidlein

Taking the wheel once again at First Solar, chairman of the board and interim CEO, Michal J Ahearn set out a new direction for the company in a conference call to discuss the company’s third quarter (Q3) results.

The rooftop pv installation at First Solar factory in Frankfurt.

While First Solar transitions into a focus on new markets, in Germany it has driven down peak electricity prices. Image: First Solar.

Central to his comments was a new direction for the company, away from more established solar markets to "developing" markets, such as India, the Middle East, North Africa and China.

To do this, Ahearn said that First Solar would have to identify customers with "pressing needs" and to serve them "in ways that are compelling and unique." Pointedly Ahearn added, "Building more factories absent this type of demand creation does not lead to growth." First Solar at the same time announced that it had ceased construction at its 250 megawatt (MW) Vietnam plant.

The CEO, who had served in the position from 2000 through to 2009, said that to pursue these goals, a shift in focus away from short-term earning per share maximization, to investments that would deliver, "long-term fundamental economic value".

Developing the new markets for First Solar, Ahearn added, would "cost money, take time and they will not yield massive results overnight."

While the company’s outlook for many of these emerging solar markets is optimistic and it will be looking to them in the future for further growth, Europe remains important in the short-term. CFO Mark Widmar commented that the market in Germany has experienced a slowdown in demand, however, stable regulations provide long-term stability.

The company also inaugurated its second German plant at its Frankfurt (Oder) site yesterday and Juergen Trittin, the former Federal Environment Minister, and Chairman of the Parliamentary Büdnis 90/The Greens party spoke at the event. He recognized the important contribution that the photovoltaic industry has made in terms of reducing costs.

Noting that the cost of solar electricity has dropped to one-third of what it was when the first EEG legislation came into effect, under which the feed-in tariff operates, Trittin also added that the production of power from solar parks during the "midday peak" helps reduce the cost of all electricity.

Importantly for the policy debate surrounding large photovoltaic ground-mounted plants in Germany, Trittin spoke in support of a revision of the regulations prohibiting them on agricultural land.

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Bob Aloo

Sunday, 06.11.2011 18:56

They should back off on the big projects and shoot form more rooftop installs. The paydays will be smaller but they'll get more of them.

Why would Germany go back to building solar on farms when they are meeting their targets with rooftop solar? At the end of the day how much cheaper is a solar farm than a large rooftop system?

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