18_First Solar

The holy grail of the solar industry is so-called grid parity: that moment when the price of a kilowatt-hour of solar energy is about the same as one generated by any other fuel source. We can only guess when that moment will come, but odds are it will be achieved within the next few years using one of the second-generation, thin-film solar technologies of the kind Arizona-based First Solar specializes in.

Though less "efficient" in their ability to transform sunlight into electricity than crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells, thin-film panels are dramatically cheaper to produce. As a result, First Solar—aka the "Intel of solar"—has been pumping out cadmium-telluride panels at a radically low $1.14 per watt. Thin film rivals like San Jose's Nanosolar are hot on First Solar's tail, with claims that it can get to 99¢ per watt. But with plans to be producing at gigawatt scale by year end and a market cap of around $11 billion, First Solar has momentum on its side.

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