First Solar beats Chinese by making sun power predictable

CEO opens up about company’s plans

By Christopher Martin


First Solar Inc. (FSLR) Chief Executive Officer Jim Hughes is stepping up efforts to manage power plants that generate electricity from the sun, helping utilities use the technology in a way his rivals in China can’t.

The biggest U.S. solar panel maker plans to build new projects from the Middle East to Australia and use proprietary systems that help power-purchasers manage the amount they buy from solar farms, Hughes said in his first interview since taking the CEO position in May.

The company’s pitch to utilities is that it will help them predict uneven power flows from solar panels, giving grid operators the ability to integrate the facilities into their networks alongside those that burn fossil fuels. That’s making First Solar less dependent on manufacturing, an industry dominated by Chinese companies led by Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP)

“We’re still far ahead of them,” Hughes, 49, said at First Solar’s headquarters in Tempe, Arizona. “We’ll keep our distance and potentially expand it.”

Hughes’s comments are the most detailed explanation to date about First Solar’s strategic shift from a panel maker toward a vertically integrated energy company that builds and operates power plants using its solar modules. The company granted access to its flagship Agua Caliente project in Arizona and facilities where it’s working to perfect systems that monitor and route solar power to the grid.



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If interested in discussing energy matters, you can contact Court Rich, director of Rose Law Group’s Renewable Energy Implementation Department,



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September 2012