First Solar is sold out through mid-2021


From pv magazine USA.

First Solar has had a good day. This morning the company announced the opening of the second-largest PV module factory in the Western Hemisphere, three months ahead of schedule. As clarified in the results call, when fully ramped the mammoth facility in Lake Township will have the ability to pump out 1.3 GW of solar modules per year, up from the 1.2 GW First Solar had initially estimated.

This afternoon the company revealed third-quarter results which show it running at full capacity, extending its order backlog to 12.4 GW and producing a tidy profit. The company reported 7.6% operating margin on revenues of $547 million, with $30.6 million in net income.

Those module bookings mean First Solar is sold out through the second quarter of 2021, almost two years from now. It’s a nice position to be in.

The company did burn through $500 million in cash during the quarter due to a variety of factors including the ramp up of its factories. But First Solar still has cash, restricted cash and marketable securities of $1.6 billion. Again, not bad.

The manufacturer marked some costs related to the shedding of its engineering, procurement and construction services division, which it says occurred because it no longer needs the specialization required to install its smaller Series 4 modules now it has largely moved to the larger Series 6 version. A hundred employees who served in the division will be laid off.

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First Solar is also improving the Series 6. It’s unclear how much of the increase in nameplate capacity of the Lake Township factory – dubbed “Perrysburg 2” in the call – is due to higher efficiencies, but First Solar has started production of its first bin of 440 W modules, making the Series 6 one of the most powerful products on the market.

The company is running at full capacity utilization and expects to ship 5.4-5.6 GW of product this year. With new factories in Vietnam as well as Ohio, the company is on track to remain a heavyweight in the module industry, as the only thin-film maker to come close to the scale of the Chinese crystalline silicon giants.

For full year 2019, First Solar’s guidance is pretty much unchanged, except it expects to be slightly more profitable.

The company is also marking its 20th anniversary and has shipped 25 GW of modules over that time. Chief executive Mark Widmar described the company as operating “from a position of strength”, and many of his statements could be applied to the solar industry at large.

“What was once a producer of a niche technology has evolved into a global company,” said Widmar.

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