First Solar was one of the first solar PV manufacturers to move downstream into project development and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), a move which has been followed by most leading PV makers. And from development and construction, the company moved into operation and maintenance (O&M) of the plants that it built.
In 2009, First Solar began operating and maintaining a 21 MW solar plant in Blythe, California, which at the time was the largest PV project in the world. With this move, the company completed its downstream vertical integration.
Today First Solar marked a milestone in its O&M business, reaching over 5 GW of solar plants which it is operating and maintaining in 10 nations. The company cites GTM Research in stating that this makes First Solar Energy Services the worlds largest O&M provider, surpassing the next-largest provider by around 1.8 GW.
Assets under contract include the 550 MW Desert Sunlight and Topaz projects in California, which are among the largest solar projects in the world. And while the large majority of the projects which First Solar operates and maintains are in North America, the company is also operating plants in nations as diverse as Australia, Chile, France, Honduras and Japan.
The list also includes the 13 MW DEWA 1 PV plant in the desert near Dubai, and the 52 MW Shams Maan project in Jordan. Maintenance of solar projects in desert environments poses additional issues, and pv magazine looked at the DEWA 1 project for an article in our January print edition on O&M challenges in desert environments.
First Solar does not yet have any O&M contracts in China, the worlds largest solar market. China has been difficult for foreign companies to operate in, and when Western solar companies have worked in China, it is typically through joint ventures with Chinese companies.
First Solars monitoring of the assets which it has under contract is likewise global. First Solar Energy Services has two operations centers, with its first in Tempe, Arizona joined by a second in Sydney, Australia. Additionally, the company established a new operations center in Berlin in 2015. The Berlin center is operated by subsidiary Skytron Energy, which First Solar acquired in 2014.
Skytron operates as a separate business unit, but also monitors more than 6 GW of PV projects.