First Solar inaugurates second German plant

03. November 2011 | Global PV markets, Markets & Trends, Applications & Installations, Top News | By:  Jonathan Gifford

Thin-film module manufacturer First Solar has inaugurated today its second plant (FF02) at its Frankfurt (Oder) site in Germany’s east. The plant will have a capacity of 250 megawatts (MW) a year, bringing the company's capacity at the site to 500 MW.

A First Solar factory in a photo taken from above.

FF02 features a rooftop photovoltaic installation worth 1.5 MW. Image: First Solar.

After a short period that First Solar may rather like to forget, what with CEO Rob Gillette suddenly leaving and the company recording a big fourth quarter (Q4) earnings miss, the event has given First Solar a reason to celebrate.

The new plant took one year to construct and bring up to full operations, and represents an investment of 170 million euros. The ramp-up of production took four months to complete. First Solar’s workforce at Frankfurt (Oder) has increased from 650 to 1,200.

pv magazine was given an exclusive tour of the facility in September with management admitting that while given market conditions the firm is "under pressure", First Solar had not been forced to alter efficiency or cost roadmaps to compete in the market.

The company also emphasized that module efficiency gains are crucial to its cost-per-watt reduction strategy. At present First Solar reports module efficiencies of 11.7 cents and its cost per watt performance to amounting to USD0.75 cents.

Managing director of Manufacturing at the Frankfurt (Oder) plants, Burghard von Westerholt, also told pv magazine that while costs are important, quality remains crucial.  As such, a feature of the new FF02 plant is a quality assurance laboratory, where modules are subjected to a wide range of tests, performed by its 50 technicians.

The FF02 inauguration today was attended by Brandenburg Prime Minister Matthias Platzeck, Environment Ministry representatives and the Chairman of the parliamentary Greens / Bündis 90 Party of the German Parliament. At the same time, the production of First Solar’s one-millionth module produced at the site was recognized.

FF02 was built and equipped using First Solar’s "Smart Copy" principal, which allows improvements made at one plant to be rolled out worldwide at the company’s plants. It also demonstrates First Solar’s "complete life-cycle approach to manufacturing", featuring g a modernized module recycling facility and two rooftop photovoltaic installations.

The rooftop installations are worth 2.8 MW, with FF02’s installation 0.2 MWs bigger than FF01. This is not, however, the only difference between the two plants at the Frankfurt (Oder) site. Touring the FF02 facility a sense of space is apparent, with the plant covering 50,000 square meters.

In a release announcing today’s event, Tymen DeJong, Senior Vice President for Global Operations was quoted as saying: "Our additional investment shows: Germany is a key market for solar energy and an important production location for First Solar."


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