First Solar, the Chosen One of thin film solar panel manufacturers, has achieved a first for any pure-play renewable energy company: inclusion on the venerable Standard & Poor’s Index of 500 commonly traded stocks.
Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar was added to the S&P 500 after the market closed October 15. The company will be part of the S&P 500 GICS (Global Industry Classification Standard) Electrical Components & Equipment Sub-Industry of the Industrials sector.
The addition of First Solar, which had $1.2 billion in sales last year, is a milestone not only for the company, but for renewable energy in general. Although non-hydroelectric renewables, including solar, wind and biomass, make up a minute fraction of overall energy generation worldwide, that percentage is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades.
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The company in its current form was started in 1999, but has roots going back to the 1980’s, as it struggled to become profitable with its then untested thin film technology.
Most thin film manufacturers use Copper, Indium, Gallium, and Selenium (CIGS) technology. First Solar makes its panels using Cadmium Telluride, a less common technology, but one that the company has exploited to great success, by steadily increasing the efficiency of its panels, the amount of electricity generated by surface area, while keeping costs down. As a result, the company was able to announce earlier this year it had achieved a production cost of $1 per watt, an important benchmark in the competition with non-renewable energy, such as coal.
Presaging the decision by the S&P was China’s decision this summer to contract First Solar to build a massive 2 gigawatt solar plant in Inner Mongolia. That deal was the largest of its kind to date, and a serious coup for the company.
In recent weeks, some analysts have suggested that First Solar and other PV manufacturers “could be using overly aggressive accounting methods to support their earnings growth,” according to Business Green.