First Solar skunk works: We’ve Moved

FSLRlogo [Santa Clara, California USA]

The worst kept solar PV (photovoltaic) secret in Silicon Valley.
First Solar is expected to commence operations of the rumored CIGS thin film pilot development line in May 2011.

Not long after First Solar skunk works, the First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) research and development (R&D) outpost in Silicon Valley leased a nondescript 110025 square foot (10222 square meter) warehouse building at 1025-1035 Walsh Avenue in Santa Clara, California. First Solar signed the lease in April 2010 just after the passage of the SB 71 sales tax exemption for the purchase of green tech manufacturing equipment in California.Arizona solar company First Solar sets up manufacturing in Santa Clara” reported on the ten (10) year lease and the City of Santa Clara’s help selecting the site.

Debuting in “Keeping Greentech Manufacturing in California”, the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority (CAEATFA) link leads to Agenda Item — 4.B.4, a First Solar application and resolution for up to $3,430,700 of SB 71 Sales and Use Tax Exclusion on $37,700,000 of manufacturing equipment (Qualified Property) purchases. First Solar’s project is stated as a “thin-film solar PV pilot development and production facility” with the following anticipated Qualified Property purchases:

Two Manufacturing Coater Equipment $16,000,000
Three Manufacturing Thin Film Coater Equipment 12,900,000
Manufacturing Automation Equipment 2,200,000
Manufacturing Material Handling and Metrology Equipment 1,500,000
Manufacturing Failure Analysis and Process Control Equipment 1,300,000
Manufacturing Equipment Costing Less than $1 million each 3,800,000
Total $37,700,000


Per the November 17, 2010, application:

First Solar is currently in the early stages of acquiring, installing and commissioning the manufacturing equipment that will comprise the Santa Clara Facility, which currently has 45 employees. When the Facility is in full production, First Solar expects to employ over 180 employees.

First Solar began building out the leased Facility in June 2010 and the construction was completed in October 2010 for an investment cost of approximately $10 million for the leasehold improvements. The purchase and installation of the manufacturing equipment is expected to occur during an 8 month period beginning in October 2010 and ending in May 2011. Once the purchase and installation is fully completed in 2011, First Solar hopes to start using the Qualified Property and commence operations in May 2011.

As can be seen in the Picasa slideshow below, I’ve surveyed the site, and I do not believe there is sufficient parking for over 180 employees unless they are split into shifts or park at an offsite location. First Solar Santa Clara counts Applied Materials, Inc. Building 21 and the 43-acre Owens Corning manufacturing complex as adjacent neighbors. The warehouse building is windowless except for the main entrance and corner offices with shades drawn. Just like the old Sunnyvale location now available for lease, a First Solar sign is nowhere to be found and the address is unlisted on the First Solar contact page.

A First Solar CIGS (copper indium gallium diselenide) patent application has surfaced although the applicants are from company locations in Ohio and Germany.

(WO 2010/141461) DOPED METAL CONTACT
09.12.2010 H01L 31/042 PCT/US2010/036890 FIRST SOLAR, INC.

A photovoltaic device can include a second metal layer adjacent to a first layer, where the first layer is positioned adjacent to a substrate, and where the second metal layer includes a dopant; and a copper-indium-gallium diselenide (CIGS) layer adjacent to the second metal layer.

Tom Cheyney caught up with “Raffi Garabedian, who directs First’s disruptive technology efforts at its skunkworks facility in Santa Clara” in “Solar short takes: Suniva implements ion implantation, First Solar turns knobs, CIGS gets purified” at PV-Tech.org.

I assert the RayTracker acquisition aligns more with First Solar’s CIGS strategy than existing cadmium telluride (CdTe) PV modules.

(Full disclosure: I own some shares of FSLR stock.)

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