First Solar: Companies Plan, God Laughs

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by Paula Mints

First Solar (FSLR) offered a great lesson about the announcing of plans (man plans, god laughs) in July when during its Q2 release call it discussed the yield problems slowing commercial production of it’s Series 6 large format module. The production delays are due to a single point of failure causing a bottleneck. First Solar expects to enter volume production with its Series 6 module early in 2019.

Muted-kudos to First Solar for discussing a not-so-secret problem with Series 6 production. The kudos are muted because if the company had been more circumspect in the first place there would be nothing to retract and defend.

Back in November 2016 when First Solar announced that it would leapfrog over its planned series 5 module and commit future production to its large area Series 6 the company enthu-siastically announced 3-GWp of Series 6 commercial capacity in 2018 and stated that the new format would offer cost advantages.

In 2017 First Solar spent $175-million retooling its Ohio manufacturing facility for its Series 6 ramp. In April 2018, amid rumors and leaks of problems ramping Series 6 as well as continued announcements that Series 6 was the future restarted manufacturing for its Series 4.

During the play, Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, others arrive, but Godot never does. Seriously though, it will obviously take a while for First Solar to recoup its investment in its own Godot. Meanwhile, prices for solar modules are currently being driven down by a market disruption in China – making it less likely that its Series 6 will be cost effective if and when it does arrive.

First Solar might want to rethink its continued optimistic announcements about its Series 6 and suppliers, such as tracker manufacturers, might consider constraint in developing products for this long-long-long awaited release. Seriously, again, continuing to announce and then retract release dates can do real damage to a company. Rumors rev, confidence falls. In this regard, continued announcements of Tesla’s solar tile rooftop product offer an example. Tesla (TSLA)  finally reduced announced optimism about its roof tile to a murmur.

Paula Mints is founder of SPV Market Research, a classic solar market research practice focused on gathering data through primary research and providing analyses of the global solar industry.  You can find her on Twitter @PaulaMints1 and read her blog here

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