The company known as First Solar revealed plans this week to double its manufacturing in the United States by building a new factory in Ohio. This construction would give Ohio the largest solar factory complex in the world outside of China.
The investment is currently valued at $680 million and marks First Solar’s third factory in the Toledo area. First Solar is the only major manufacturer of solar panels headquartered in the United States.
First Solar said it believes “this will be the largest fully integrated solar manufacturing complex in the world — outside of China. It will be capable of making one solar module every 2.8 seconds, and it will primarily supply America’s booming market for clean energy.”
“This investment really helps us position the United States on solid footing to achieve its objectives of energy independence and security – and having US manufacturing enable it,” First Solar CEO Mark Widmar told the media.
This expansion will also work to fulfill the Biden Administration’s goal of cutting US greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. Ramping up renewable energy sources, like solar power, are key for accomplishing this goal.
China currently makes most of the materials required for producing photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, and its supply chain has been completely tainted within the past year due to trading issues and allegations of forced labor.
“China largely dominates the PV supply chain. But unlike many other major solar manufacturers, we’re not dependent on China. That’s because our thin-film PV panels do not rely on the popular crystalline-silicon technology that is made mostly in China. Renewables created this great promise of liberation and energy independence. But the dominance of the Chinese has taken over this industry. It really undermines the opportunity we created when renewables became reliable,” Widmar explained.
The new facility in Ohio is projected to be 1.8 million square feet, and would allow First Solar to produce around half of all their solar panels in America. The new facility couldn’t have come at a better time for the nation either, as the solar power capacity in America in 2020 was the highest it’s ever been, and that capacity is set to quadruple by 2030, meaning more of the nation will have the infrastructure required to make solar energy more accessible.
The biggest concern, according to Widmar, will be finding workers who are experienced in the field and able to come work in Ohio full time.
“There clearly is a shortage of qualified workers. It is a concern of ours. Due to the constrained labor market, First Solar plans to lean more on automation than it normally does. In addition to robots, First Solar plans to use automated and guided vehicles to move materials. For example, the fork lifts at the new facility will all be automated,” Widmar said.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.