Tempe, Arizona-based panel manufacturing company First Solar recently announced their plans to build a new $680 million factory in Lake Township, Ohio — about one hour south of Cleveland. It is expected to be fully operational by Q3 2023.
First Solar is one of America’s leading solar panel companies. Founded in 1999 before the onset of the renewable energy boom, the company now offers power plant builds, operational and financial planning for renewable energy centers, and a comprehensive panel recycling program.
The new Lake Township location is First Solar’s second property in that immediate vicinity. The facility is expected to add 500 clean energy jobs in addition to the 1,600 U.S. workers that the company already employs.
First Solar already has two manufacturing plants in the United States, and this third location will add 3.3 gigawatts of manufacturing capacity which would “make it the largest fully vertically integrated solar manufacturing complex outside of China” according to a company statement. Although the use of solar power is on the rise, most of the contributing manufacturers to that rise are based outside of the United States. First Solar has made a transparent effort to merge American innovation and domestic economic development with the progression of solar technology.
The most crucial component of solar panels is the PV, or photovoltaic semiconductor material, which converts sunlight into energy. Many international companies use a crystalline silicon (c-Si) semiconductor, a lower-cost, and lower-performance product compared to thin-film PV. First Solar is the only U.S.-headquartered company in the world’s ten largest solar manufacturers to use thin-film solar panels. Although not cost-prohibitive, like the many U.S.-made products, domestic manufacturing can drive up costs. First Solar says that they intend to push costs down with their new build in Ohio, by being able to enhance the supply of this type of technology.
Solar panels’ unique ability to harvest renewable energy is accompanied by a novel responsibility for environmentalism when it comes to the panels’ lifecycles — a duty that some manufacturers have been criticized for in recent years.
In response, First Solar has created a recycling program for their materials. Like most modern technologies, solar panels are intricately crafted tools made of both commonly occurring and rare metals and chemicals. The panels have a long lifecycle, up to 40 years, but following their expiration, First Solar has a robust program to repurpose panels’ materials, eliminating up to 95% of harmful waste. This percentage outshines other high-tech recycling metrics, such as smartphones, where less than one percent of all commodities are recycled, virtually wasting the hard-to-mine materials.
Lake Township’s new facility combined with the already existing Ohio location will bring the company’s investment in the Buckeye State to over $1.6 billion.
In addition to the impressive financial investment and job opportunities, First Solar’s newest addition will help boost an outstanding manufacturing capacity: one module made every 2.75 seconds.
Chief Manufacturing Operations Officer Mike Koralewski says that the company’s continued success and contribution to the thriving renewable energy industry is all thanks to their dedicated and talented workers, and the upcoming investment will only help increase their workforce’s opportunities. “We see this as an opportunity for our associates.” Koralewski said in a statement, “to upskill, learn new technologies, continue to grow and develop [ourselves] as our factories and products continually evolve.”