US-based First Solar seems to have done a pretty good job naming itself. It is the #1 solar developer in the world (based on March 2013 data), the #1 solar EPC contractor in the world (same data source), and the #2 solar module manufacturer in the world (based on 2012 figures). Furthermore, regarding that third point, it is the only thin-film solar module manufacturer in the top 10.
Regarding point number one, here’s Wiki-Solar’s latest ranking of utility-scale solar power developers:
This is based on cumulative capacity, and it’s just for 10MW+ solar power plants. Wiki-Solar provides some more context to chew on: “We had 12.4GW of utility-scale plants on our database, when this list was compiled in March-13. Of that capacity, developers are listed against 81%; of which this top-20 list accounts for 49%.”
Regarding First Solar’s supremacy on this list, CleanTechnica‘s Joshua Hill this week reported: “At the top of the list, with a total of 759 MW across 11 sites, is First Solar, which includes the largest plant currently operating — and still under construction — the Agua Caliente Solar Farm in the Southwest corner of Arizona. The farm, owned by NRG Energy and MidAmerican Energy, topped 250 MW last September and is expected to total over 300 MW upon final completion some time in 2014.”
First Solar is also tops on the EPC contractors list (which, of course, is related):
And if that wasn’t enough to increase your respect for this Arizona-based company, it’s also worth noting that this vertically integrated solar pioneer was the #2 solar module manufacturer in 2012, according to NPD Solarbuzz:
And, unlike #1 Yingli Green Energy, First Solar had considerable gross profit in 2012 (and almost net profit):
Now, this is clearly a tough time for solar module manufacturers. Cutthroat competition, excessive subsidies for Chinese solar module manufacturers, a glut of solar modules, and a race to the bottom (in price), is wearing hard on every business in this sector of the industry. However, it seems likely that First Solar will be one of the first in this sector to pull out of this “growing pains” stretch.
Furthermore, word on the street is that thin-film solar modules will (sooner or later) be more cost-competitive than conventional PV modules in most applications. We’ll see, but I think that is likely to propel First Solar even further into the lead.