First Solar says cell built locally sets world record in test confirmed by U.S. Department of Energy

The First Solar plant in Perrysburg.
The First Solar plant in Perrysburg.

On the same day the company released its 2012 earnings, First Solar Inc. announced that one of its solar cells constructed in Perrysburg Township has set a world record.

First Solar announced Tuesday that it set a world record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) solar cell conversion efficiency, achieving 18.7 percent cell efficiency in tests confirmed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The record-setting cell was built at the company’s Perrysburg Township factory and research-and-development center using processes and materials designed for commercial-scale manufacturing.

“This achievement showcases the huge potential of CdTe compared to other PV technologies and highlights the performance gains we continue to achieve thanks to our consistent and strong investment in R&D,” said Raffi Garabedian, First Solar’s chief technology officer.

First Solar, the world’s largest maker of thin-film solar modules, started in Toledo. Its headquarters are now in Tempe, Ariz.

After the stock markets closed Tuesday, First Solar posted net income of $154.2 million for the fourth quarter, reversing a huge loss from a year earlier, but investors were disappointed by the company’s sales in the quarter and the earnings outlook for this year.

First Solar said that for the first quarter of 2013, sales will be in the range of $650 million to $750 million, less than the $803.6 million average estimate of 18 analysts.

The shares fell 10 percent in after-market trading.

First Solar earned $1.74 per share on revenue of $1.08 billion for the quarter. Last year, the company lost $413 million, or $4.78 per share, on revenue of $660.4 million after it reduced the value of its solar system components division and booked other one-time charges. For all of 2012, the company posted a loss of $96 million, or $1.11 a share, on sales of $3.4 billion. In 2011, First Solar lost $39 million on sales of $2.8 billion.

In 2012, First Solar began reducing capacity as a global surplus and waning government support drove down solar-panel prices 31 percent. The company boosted revenue last year by expanding efforts to build large power plants with its panels, and needs to develop more projects to keep its pipeline filled, according to Rob Stone, an analyst at Cowen & Co. in Boston. “We believe additional bookings are needed to avoid further shutdowns and charges,” Mr. Stone said in a research note Friday. First Solar is finishing solar farms faster than it is selling new ones, he said. Most of its current projects will be complete by 2015.