First Solar's slim profit in Q2 2014 overshadowed by efficiency improvements


First Solar achieved US$544 million in revenue in the second quarter of 2014, a 4.7% increase over a year prior but a 43% fall from the previous quarter. Such wild swings in revenue are typical for First Solar, as the solar project business tends to be highly uneven from quarter to quarter.

The company also reported a 0.03% operating margin, and managed a net profit of only $4.5 million, First Solar’s worst result in years. Both the sequential fall in revenue and the low margins may be the result of project delays, which deferred some earnings into later in 2014.

However, these mediocre financial results were overshadowed by the company’s news that it had produced a 21.0% efficient PV cell, a new world record not only for its cadmium telluride technology but all single-junction thin film solar.

Additionally, First Solar reported that it increased the average efficiency 0.5% on its production lines to 14.0% during the second quarter, the company’s largest increase in one quarter to date. During the quarter the company rolled out its Series 3 Black modules and back-contact technology on a fleet-wide basis.

Overall, First Solar’s capacity utilization fell sequentially to 80%, with the company producing 447 MW of PV modules. First Solar did not offer manufacturing cost estimates this quarter, but has built its leading market position in part on low-cost manufacturing.

The company also did not provide much detail on its solar projects during a quarterly earnings call, but says that it has booked 812 MW-DC of new projects since the first quarter of 2014. This brings First Solar to 1.22 GW-DC of projects booked this year.

Additionally, First Solar has been expanding in the operations and maintenance space, and the acquisition of Skytron Energy has essentially doubled the company’s portfolio of monitored assets.

For the assets that it owns First Solar says that it is still considering a yieldco structure, but has yet to make a commitment either way. Fellow solar developers SunEdison and Abengoa have both formed yieldcos, but SunPower has not.

First Solar has maintained its guidance of $3.7-4.0 billion over the full year 2014, at a 7-9% operating margin. The company expects to produce 1.8-1.9 GW of PV modules during the year.