Q&A: First Solar

First Solar was founded in 1999, and is the largest solar manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere’s today, providing its technology globally. Headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, First Solar manufactures thin film solar PV modules that bring higher lifetime energy and lower levelized costs of electricity (LCOE). First Solar owns and operates manufacturing facilities in the United States, Malaysia and Vietnam and is currently building additional factories in Ohio, USA and Tamil Nadu, India.

Starting with a short bio of Matt Merfert:

Matt is responsible for business development and sales of First Solar’s thin film solar technology across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Matt has over 15 years of experience in the solar industry, beginning with installing residential and commercial rooftop systems in California and growing with the industry to develop and build utility-scale ground-mounted solar power plants.

Since 2017, Matt has been based in Amsterdam. Matt currently serves as the Chair of Solar Power Europe’s Sustainability workstream. He was identified as a ‘Solar Pioneer’ in 2014 by the Middle East Solar Industry Association, and earned a Fellowship in Sustainable Energy from Cornell University in 2010.

Tell us a little bit about First Solar’s journey in Europe:

First Solar has been continuously active and powering projects in Europe with its thin film technology since 2005. To date, First Solar technology is powering large-scale power plants in all major European solar markets, totalling over 5500MW.  First Solar has sales and after-sales offices in addition to a module recycling facility in Germany.

Can you tell us more about the production of the First Solar Series (6 Plus)?

First Solar’s Series 6 platform is the latest evolution of the CdTe thin film technology that First Solar has been producing and improving on for over 25 years. At each of our factories, modules are completed from beginning to end in just 4.5 hours. The production process is highly automated, using far less energy, and only about 2% of the semiconductor material compared to crystalline silicon modules on a per watt basis. Most importantly, the entire manufacturing process is completed under one roof, which allows for unparalleled quality control and 100% supply chain traceability.

What is the composition of the First Solar Modules?

First Solar modules have always been built with robust and durable glass-glass construction. Between the two layers of glass, you have extremely thin layers of contacts, conductors, laser-scribed semiconductor and laminates for sealing. When the module format changed from 60cm x 120cm to the larger Series 6 form factor, First Solar developed an innovative under-mount frame in  collaboration with industry-leading BOS suppliers for intuitive and quick installation.

What are the technical advantages of a First Solar Module?

For starters, thin film is distinct from silicon – different composition and construction leads to different behaviour in the field. The lifetime performance is very stable, Series 6 comes with one of the best long-term degradation warranties in the industry: starting at 98% in the first year and maximum annual degradation of only -0.3% per year for 30 years.

The modules are designed with a sleek, near-black appearance and do not incorporate bypass diodes – avoiding not only a critical point of failure, but also the nonlinear performance losses that come with near shading. First Solar modules have a linear shading loss profile, which can allow for tighter row spacing on space-constrained projects. Thin film is not affected by light-induced degradation (LID) and Light and Elevated Temperature Induced Degradation (LeTID), problems that plague silicon modules.

What are the important certificates and quality marks for Series 6 Plus?

First Solar’s PV modules come with all of the expected IEC certifications, such as 61215, 61730, 61701 (Salt Mist Corrosion) and 60068-2-68 (Dust and Sand Resistance); and the factories are certified to ISO 9001 for Quality Management, ISO 14001 for Environmental Management, and ISO 45001 for Occupational Health and Safety.

But what really differentiates Series 6 Plus is the ability to pass extended durability tests that go far beyond IEC basic requirements, such as the Long-Term Sequential Test and the Thresher Test.

Tell us about First Solar’s approach to Responsible Solar:

First Solar’s Series 6 modules are the world’s first PV product to be included in the EPEAT register for sustainable electronics. The certification carries out a rigorous life-cycle assessment and looks at all aspects and impacts of the product. The annual EPEAT disclosure report is available online.

We also believe that in order for solar energy solutions to be truly sustainable, they should be responsibly managed at end of life. First Solar is the only module manufacturer with global in-house recycling facilities. Our proven recycling process achieves high recovery rates of up to 90 percent of the semiconductor material, which can be reused in new modules, and 90 percent of the glass that can be reused in new glass products.