in the past year, he stressed the importance of learning “how we can continue this pace of improvement.” Mr. Hurst cited several other provisions of the loan guarantee program of the Recovery Act, including an appropriation of $6 billion, which now covers credit subsidy costs. In addition, it provides a new aspect of loan guarantees specifically for renewable energy and electric power transmission. Finally, DoE had announced the offer of a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, Inc. to construct an industrial-scale PV plant in California.
The DoE’s solar R&D program, he said, was a broad-based program embracing the full spectrum of opportunities, including long-range R&D, pilot production and supply chain issues, manufacturing issues, and mechanisms to move PV systems into the field.
Mr. Hurst concluded with a quote from a speech given by President Obama, given a day earlier at a wind turbine manufacturing site. He said, “America pioneered solar technology but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in generating, even though we have more sun than either country. I don’t accept that this is the way it has to be. When it comes to renewable energy, I don’t think we should be followers. I think it’s time for us to lead.”
He concluded by noting that he looked forward to hearing from the speakers this morning to learn how we can work together to achieve the President’s vision.
Michael J. Ahearn
Mr. Ahearn opened with the observation that “this is part of the awakening to the Obama administration’s change in attitude and momentum, and it’s most welcome by the industry.” He then offered a brief history of First Solar, which had grown rapidly since its founding in 1999. Eschewing standard crystalline silicon modules, First Solar adopted a lower-cost thin-film technique using cadmium-telluride solar cells. This proved to be a difficult process to master, and the company needed six years to reach steady-state production with its first manufacturing line. Since then, progress has accelerated. In 2005, the first year of production, the company manufactured 20 megawatts of solar panels. In 2008, it made just over 500 megawatts of solar panels, a 2500 percent increase in four years. This year production is expected to double to about a gigawatt.
Mr. Ahearn noted that an important part of the First Solar story has been the lowering of manufacturing costs. At the beginning of this period, manufacturing costs were about even with the rest of the industry at $3 a watt produced. Over the next four years, however, the cost dropped by two-thirds, falling below a dollar a watt at the end of 2008. “That trajectory,” he said, “is continuing at a fairly steep rate.”
He also stressed the economic development value of the industry. In the course of the manufacturing scale-up, First Solar invested over a billion dollars