02 August 2011

First Solar Sets World Record and Hires an M&A Guy: Enough to Persuade the Street?

Heading into its 2Q 2011 earnings report this week, First Solar announced two pieces of news that may have an impact on its future, if not the past.

The company announced last week it set a new world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) solar cell efficiency at 17.3 percent.  The record was set using a test cell and was confirmed by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).  The previous record was 16.7 percent, set in 2001.

“This is a significant milestone that demonstrates the ongoing potential of our advanced thin-film technology,” said Dave Eaglesham, chief technology officer at First Solar in a press release. “This leap forward in R&D supports our efficiency roadmap for our production modules and will recalibrate industry expectations for the long-term efficiency potential of CdTe technology.”

The average efficiency of First Solar modules produced in the first quarter of 2011 was 11.7 percent, according to the company, up from 11.1 percent a year earlier.  First Solar has previously recorded full-module efficiencies over 13.5 percent, with a 13.4 percent module confirmed by NREL.

“First Solar’s innovation in both module technology and balance of systems engineering continues to drive us closer to grid parity,” said CEO Rob Gillette.
First Solar may lead in the CdTe thin film arena, but SunPower holds the title for silicon PV solar cells at 22.4 percent and Alta Devices' for gallium-arsenide (GaAs) thin film with efficiencies of 27.6 percent.
"The all-time winner," writes Jeanne Roberts in Energy Boom, "is likely Spire Semiconductor, which collaborated with NREL to produce a triple-junction solar cell with a 42.3-percent efficiency rating.   These ratings all represent how much sunlight (or the photons in sunlight) is converted to electricity."

It's also not the first record First Solar has set, according to Roberts, "In 2009, the company claimed it was manufacturing solar cells for $1 per watt, an industry milestone that represented the Holy Grail of solar cell costs, at least to fabricators."
Meanwhile, late last Friday came the news that First Solar hired Cory Steffek, a former investor at venture capital firm Altira Group, to help make strategic acquisitions and partnerships, a move that seems to hint at future M&A activity on the solar horizon.

FSLR will report earnings on Thursday after the close.  We'll see how the market reacts to their performance and whether these announcements of future potential will have any impact.

(Disclosure: I hold a long position in FSLR. This post is for informational purposes only and is neither intended to be investment advice nor an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities.)

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