First Solar Digs Deserts

On Tuesday, First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR  ) announced that it has joined the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative, which seeks to turn the Middle East and North Africa into a solar and wind-powered renewable energy hub. Up until now, the consortium had focused on solar thermal power, the parabolic trough technology embraced by European companies like Siemens (NYSE: SI  ) , Areva, and Solar Millennium. First Solar is the first pure solar photovoltaics (PV) player to join DESERTEC.

Reuters noted that First Solar's entry into the DII "came as something of a surprise to analysts." Well, clearly those analysts need to read more Abu Dhabi newspapers. In January, I alerted Fools to a report that haze and dust were causing problems for CSP (concentrating solar power) installations undergoing testing in the emirate. This led me to consider the possibility of PV players like First Solar and Suntech Power (NYSE: STP  ) making inroads into this and other solar megaprojects.

In its release, First Solar pointed to its experience with desert conditions in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. That includes the El Dorado plant built for Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE  ) in Nevada, which had one analyst claiming that First Solar had hit grid parity. (Sempra's CEO later put a damper on that analysis, saying that the generator's costs were more than double the eager analyst's estimate of $0.075 per kilowatt hour.) First Solar is also in the early stages of a massive 2-gigawatt project in the Inner Mongolian desert, near "China's empty city."

In addition to First Solar's thin-film technology, which appears to perform well in desert conditions, the company also brings valuable project development experience to the DESERTEC table. This engineering/construction angle is one that's becoming more prominent in other solar businesses like SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA  ) (Nasdaq: SPWRB  ) and LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK  ) , but as with its cost leadership, First Solar is probably at the forefront of solar project management as well.

There is nothing surprising about this company joining the DESERTEC initiative. Wherever there are large-scale deployment opportunities, you can expect to see First Solar making a play.

First Solar and Suntech Power Holdings are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his Motley Fool CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2010, at 12:17 PM, blazev wrote:

    Digging the desert is not a good reason to poison it.

    CdTe PV panels are loaded with Cadmium--ferociously toxic, carcinogenic heavy metal--whose long term behavior and safe operation in large scale fields under desert sun exposure have not been properly tested nor decisively proven. Nor are there any attempts in that direction, that I'm aware of.

    Covering thousands of acres with cheap, potentially toxic, CdTe panels, without proving their safe operation in LARGE SCALE fields during 25-30 years of continuous operation in DESERT areas, is ignorance and greed combined into one act of utmost negligence, the outcome of which somebody eventually will be held responsible for. Who will that be?

    The US and world's scientific communities must take a close look at the fragile CdTe/CdS thin films structure, the flimsy, frame-less panels design and their interaction with, and behavior under, the harsh desert elements for the duration BEFORE allowing millions of these panels without a relevant safety record to cover Earth's surface.

    It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of this and any other mass produced product with such great impact on environment and life in general!

  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2010, at 12:23 PM, blazev wrote:

    Digging the desert is not a good reason to poison it.

    CdTe PV panels are loaded with Cadmium--ferociously toxic, carcinogenic heavy metal--whose long term behavior and safe operation in large scale fields under desert sun exposure have not been properly tested nor decisively proven. Nor are there any attempts in that direction, that I'm aware of.

    Covering thousands of acres with cheap, potentially toxic, CdTe panels, without proving their safe operation in LARGE SCALE fields during 25-30 years of continuous operation in DESERT areas, is ignorance and greed combined into one act of utmost negligence, the outcome of which somebody eventually will be held responsible for. Who will that be?

    The US and world's scientific communities must take a close look at the fragile CdTe/CdS thin films structure, the flimsy, frame-less panels design and their interaction with, and behavior under, the harsh desert elements for the duration BEFORE allowing millions of these panels without a relevant safety record to cover Earth's surface.

    It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of this and any other mass produced product with such great impact on environment and life in general!

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