After hitting a 52-week low on the stock market in April, the Tempe, Arizona-based photovoltaic (PV) company finished the spring and early summer with an impressively solid performance, mostly due to declining costs of production, one-time tax benefits, and increasing third-party demand and purchases of their modules and systems.
First Solar’s project sales got a huge boost earlier this month when EDF Renewable Energy (EDF RE) purchased Switch Station 1 and 2, which are still under construction in the Nevada desert. Utility-sized project sales and their price tags should continue increasing through the year as more and more energy suppliers add to their solar components.
Sales of their trademark Series 4 module exceeded expectations as well, while at the same time their innovative Series 6 product readied for manufacturing at a factory located in Ohio. Advance sales have already begun for the latter, which is scheduled to hit the market in next year’s second-quarter.
The biggest factor driving demand domestically and overseas was Georgia-based Suniva's Section 201 filing with the U.S. government's International Trade Commission (ITC). This outlines the agency's investigation into Suniva's request for certain protections from Chinese competitors under Sections 201 and 202 of the Trade Act. They are asking for "global safegaurd relief" on imports of their silicon solar cells.
In fact, industry observers are taking First Solar's second-quarter report as early evidence of the filing's effects.
Though the ITC won't make a ruling on the case until September — and even then won’t make policy recommendations to the Trump administration until November — the filing itself, which occurred soon after First Solar hit a year-to-year low, and has already spooked third-party buyers into hoarding solar panels and systems, resulting in the company's unexpectedly strong performance between May and July in the latter half of the quarter.
Industry experts and observers remain unsure in which direction the ITC will ultimately rule. However, Trump's very own protectionist campaign promises, which he’s delivered on in office, point in a negative direction for solar prospects in the U.S.
If the ITC rules in Suniva's favor which is majority-owned by Chinese firm, Shunfeng International, an import tariff would drive up the cost of all PV systems (residential, commercial, and utility-grade), depress sales, and cause installations to slump, reversing a multi-year trend that has been a boon to the renewable energy sector.
All eyes in the industry will be on the case as it develops, and because of the company's domestic location, innovative technologies, and now upward trajectory, First Solar will be a major focal point.
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