Less Carbon, More Jobs
See where clean energy and climate legislation will create jobs in 29 states
The First Solar story began in Ohio with innovative technology, a small dedicated team of scientists and engineers, and a vision of a future powered by clean renewable electricity.
Today, First Solar is the world leader in manufacturing photovoltaic (PV) modules with an advanced thin film semiconductor process that greatly reduces the cost of manufacturing solar modules.
From 2005 to 2008, First Solar increased annual production from 20 MW to over 500 MW, a 25-fold increase. Annual production capacity is expected to double again in 2009, to over 1 GW. This means that in just a little over four years, First Solar will have moved from start-up phase to the equivalent of producing an average-sized nuclear plant every year.
The company's growth has offered outstanding job opportunities in the U.S. and around the world. In order to understand the employment and economic development opportunities that First Solar has created, one must look no further than Perrysburg, Ohio.
Located just outside of Toledo, First Solar announced in 2008 an expansion to double the size of its Perrysburg campus and add over 130 new jobs to a workforce of 700 by 2010, nearly a 20% increase in employment. Approximately two-thirds of the newly created jobs will be hourly positions varying in skill level, including skilled equipment operators, technicians, and engineers, along with positions in administration, human resources, and accounting.
With these new jobs, First Solar will help improve economic conditions in nearby Toledo. With an unemployment rate of 9.2%, Toledo's 341,300-strong labor force suffers in comparison to the state of Ohio (7.3% unemployment), as well as to the country as a whole (6.7%).
First Solar continues to re-energize the manufacturing sector and grow as an international employer with a workforce of approximately 4,000. The benefits of new green manufacturing are also recognized and valued by the communities located near the company's manufacturing plants, particularly the local businesses that supply First Solar.
Thomas Blaha, Executive Director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission called First Solar the "jewel in our economic development crown."
Jobs with First Solar are not limited to module manufacturing, but extend to engineering and construction. In December 2008 the company completed construction of a 10-MW power plant in Boulder City, Nevada for Sempra Generation. The plant, which was built entirely with modules manufactured in Perrysburg, is the company's first utility-scale project in the U.S. A team from First Solar's Bridgewater, NJ, office engineered and designed the plant, purchased all the equipment, and constructed the plant – a process that took less than six months from start to finish.
"While First Solar has traditionally exported our product to Germany, we are pleased to see a growing home for our products here in the U.S.," says Kathy Weiss, Vice President of Government Relations. "This growth is creating a cottage industry of green jobs – spanning the spectrum from initial manufacturing to final construction and installation, and even on-going maintenance."
First Solar's ramp up in manufacturing has been integral to driving deep reductions in the cost of its modules. Between 2004 and 2008, First Solar's manufacturing costs declined from approximately $3.00 per watt to less than $1.00 per watt, the first company to break a benchmark long considered the "holy grail" of the industry.
Not only does high output allow First Solar to benefit from traditional economies of scale, it also enables rapid cycles of learning and improvement. With a motto of "continuous improvement," each iteration of the company's product gets better – and the improvements come quickly as the rapid growth allows the company to accelerate up the learning curve.
Perhaps the clearest example of this ability to take advantage of high output comes with the conversion efficiency of its PV technology. Between 2004 and 2008, conversion efficiency – which measures how good a module is at turning sunlight into useful electricity – has grown by approximately 60%.
As First Solar continues to install modules in the U.S., this will help reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions, and transmission constraints that occur on the grid during peak hours. In addition, First Solar modules produce electricity with no water use, no waste production, and no air emissions. As part of the company's commitment to extended producer responsibility, when the modules have reached the end of their 25-year useful life, the modules are recycled into new modules under the company's pre-funded module collection and recycling program.
Overall, First Solar's modules have a low carbon footprint. This stems from a low energy payback time – the amount of time the PV system needs to produce energy in order to pay off the energy used to produce it in the first place. For example, First Solar PV systems can pay off their initial energy consumption in as little as one year.
In short, through its employees in Perrysburg, Ohio and around the world, First Solar is enabling clean renewable electricity at lower costs. The continued growth of the technology and the company provides the world with an affordable alternative to conventional electricity, bringing with it new jobs, a low-cost solution to climate change, other environmental benefits, and energy independence.
First Solar is achieving its goal of growing the economy and creating jobs while protecting the environment. See how.
Company First Solar
Location Perrysburg, Ohio
Product/Service Thin film solar modules