Thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturer First Solar is making progress on a $300 million factory in Mesa, Ariz. At a site dedication ceremony, the company said the factory, expected to roll out approximately 250 megawatts (MW) of the company’s signature thin-film modules per year, should be up and running by the third quarter of next year.
Unlike typical crystalline silicon PV modules, First Solar’s thin-film modules are manufactured by pressing a cadmium telluride (CdTe) semiconductor layer onto a piece of glass. According to First Solar, the entire manufacturing process can be completed in less than 2.5 hours.
In general, the lower power ratings of thin-film modules means that more surface area is required to achieve a desired system capacity. However, First Solar’s “more affordable” technology shines on large commercial rooftops and utility-scale ground-mounted systems, where space is not a problem. The manufacturer’s FS Series 2 PV Module was the first module to break the $1/watt manufacturing cost barrier. And, with less than 2 percent of the equivalent semiconductor content found in crystalline silicon PV modules, the modules are also cheaper and lighter than everyday solar panels. The company also claims that its CdTe-based modules may produce more electricity on hot days, under cloudy weather and across a larger percentage of normal daylight conditions than crystalline silicon modules.
The 135-acre Mesa factory will employ approximately 600 full-time workers. Output from the new factory is expected to be used in the construction of First Solar’s 2,600 MW North American project pipeline, which includes the 290 MW Agua Caliente project, located in Yuma County, Ariz. When fully operational in 2014, Agua Caliente will generate enough clean solar energy to serve the needs of about 100,000 average homes per year.