Thin-film solar market leader First Solar recently reported its largest quarterly decline in CdTe module costs per-watt since 2007, as part of its third quarter 2013 financial results report.
The notable decline represents a significant milestone in the company’s goal of becoming the lowest-cost PV manufacturer in the industry. First Solar attributes the achievement to the implementation of its manufacturing cost reduction program — a program which was detailed earlier in the year at the company’s “Analyst Day” event.
“We have reduced our module manufacturing cost per watt to US $0.59 from US $0.67 last quarter, an US $0.08 per watt or 12% reduction quarter-on-quarter,” stated Jim Hughes, Chief Executive Officer of First Solar, in the conference call. “This is the best quarter-over-quarter cost improvement in six years on a per watt basis and highest percentage reduction since our IPO (in 2007).”
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Hughes went on to highlight even lower manufacturing costs, noting that First Solar’s conversion efficiency roadmap targets and manufacturing improvement program as well as cost saving initiatives, revealed a US $0.57/W, excluding plant underutilization. Importantly, the company demonstrated that it had met its conversion efficiency roadmap targets this year.
First Solar also said that in October, 2013 it’s lead production line averaged module efficiencies of 13.9% and expected all lines to reach 13.9%, over the next few quarters. Taking the 14.1% module efficiency achieved on its best line at its Perrysburg facility, First Solar said that this pointed to a cost per watt of US $0.49.
“If we take the additional impact of excluding freight warranty and recycling cost, we would be in the low 40s, so I think that’s kind of the competitive benchmark that we should all keep in front of us,” Hughes continued. “We have the capability today, (14.1%) which we equate to an apples to apples comparison (with conventional c-Si cell/modules in real-world temperature conditions) across our profile (of) the low US $0.42/W to US $0.43/W.”
By comparison, Solar Frontier recently reported that its latest record-holding CIS thin-film module had achieved a conversion efficiency of 14.6% — with volume production modules currently somewhere above about 13%. Mainstream multi-crystalline modules currently possess an average conversion efficiency of about 15%.