First Solar Delivers Upbeat Earnings. No, Really.

Turns out not all solar manufacturers are headed to hell in a handbasket. First Solar, the Arizona-based company that appeared to be halfway to Hades less than a year ago, has stuck around, cut back, refocused and turned in a profitable second quarter.

In laying out its financials yesterday – net sales were $957 million in the quarter, an increase of $460 million from the first quarter of 2012 and $425 million from the second quarter of 2011; and the $1.27 profit per share easily beat estimates of around 90 cents – the company attributed its turnaround to a successful concentration on utilty-scale project development.

agua caliente solar project

First Solar’s Agua Caliente project, in Arizona. (image via First Solar)

The under-construction Antelope valley Solar Ranch 1 and recently completed Silver State North saw revenue recognition in the quarter, and First Solar said more big projects using the the firm’s cadmium-telluride thin-film panels are in the works and upcoming.

One is the freshly announced Campo Verde Solar Project in Imperial County, Calif., a 139-megawatt power station where work will begin this quarter. Power from the project is under contract to go to San Diego Gas & Electric under a 20-year deal.

Projects of that sort create a market for First Solar’s panels in a time of huge PV oversupply, and have proven to be attractive to investors. The company said it will have no problem selling Campo Verde. “We have more investors seeking to buy our projects than we have projects to sell them,” CEO James Hughes said in yesterday’s earnings call. “We currently have more than 10 bidders vying to purchase the Campo Verde project.”

First Solar executives said they saw more opportunities in Australia, where the company has two hefty projects lined up, and India. And when asked about Chile, in the news recently with Chinese investment in big solar, Hughes, who was given the helm of the company in May, said he had just happened to have returned from a trip there.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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