First Solar sugarcoats lower than expected quarter with GE partnership, project portfolio

First Solar

First Solar's manufacturing facility in Ohio. Courtesy First SolarFirst Solar missed its guidance for the second quarter of 2013, but sugarcoated the news with a newly announced purchase of Element Power’s 1.5 gigawatt project portfolio in the U.S. and Mexico. Then it put a cherry on top with a new partnership with General Electric with GE taking an ownership stake in the company and First Solar acquiring all of GE’s intellectual property related to cadmium telluride solar technologies.

For the second quarter of 2013 the company reported earnings per share of 37 cents, compared to EPS of 66 cents in the first quarter of 2013 and $1.27 for the same quarter of the previous year. The company said its earnings for the quarter, which were below Wall Street expectations of 53 cents per share, were impacted by restructuring charges and lower revenue recognition from its Antelope Valley Solar Ranch related to county approval process delays, as well as lower sales to third-party installers.

The company also revised its full-year guidance down to EPS of $3.75 to $4.25 from $4.00 to $4.50. The company anticipated lower sales than it previously predicted for the full year.

For the second quarter the company wasn’t able to close some of the sales it anticipated it might complete. "Although we worked diligently in the quarter to close the sale of the ABW projects, the sale was delayed and consequently,” said First Solar CEO Jim Hughes. “Such delay caused a decline in our net sales and earnings for the second quarter from expectations. We still expect the closing of the ABW sale to occur in the current year, resulting in a corresponding increase in net sales and earnings in the second half of 2013," he added.

However, the company also had some good news. "The acquisition of GE's CdTe intellectual property and the formation of the new strategic collaboration partnership with GE, coupled with the growing pipeline of potential booking opportunities and continued improvements we are making on our module technology provide incremental value and confidence for our shareholders,” Hughes said.

The partnership with GE and the acquisition of its CdTe technologies will start to be brought into First Solar’s production in coming months and years. "The addition of GE's PV thin film technology and R&D resources will advance our technology roadmap, while realizing cost reduction in our manufacturing process." While the technologies are not exactly the same, they can be integrated together, according to Hughes. And GE, which planned to build the U.S.’s largest PV manufacturing facility in Colorado a few short years ago, has developed the world’s highest-efficiency CdTe cell, at 19 percent conversion efficiency Hughes said during the conference call. However, as costs for silicon PV continued to fall, GE abandoned its plans for the Colorado plant. "To lead in today's solar industry, you must have the most competitive technology at the most competitive cost position," said Anne McEntee, president and CEO of GE's renewable energy business. "We're excited to partner with First Solar to accelerate innovation and bring our complementary technology and R&D to market faster through its manufacturing capabilities."

The company also announced that it purchased 1.5 gigawatts of Element Power’s project pipeline in the U.S. and Mexico. In the U.S., the projects are in “California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Colorado, Louisiana and Illinois,” First Solar said in a release. It added that “the projects are competitively positioned in their respective markets and have secured site options and interconnect queue positions, and are at various stages of environmental screening and permitting.” It also includes several projects in Mexico’s Sonora State, marking First Solar’s entry to that market. 

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