First Solar Income Jumps 80%, Fueled by Project Focus

It looks like First Solar’s strategy of selling complete solar projects rather than just PV panels is starting to pay off.

The company provided a rare bright spot among solar manufacturer financial reports when it reported an 81% jump in second-quarter net income, earning $111 million, or $1.27 per share.

First Solar’s Q2 revenue jumped $957 million, more than double the $425 million generated in the second quarter of 2011. 

The company lost almost $450 million in the first quarter, largely due to a massive restructuring that saw the company close two manufacturing plants and lay off more than 2,000 workers globally (almost 30% of its workforce).

It reported Q2 pre-tax charges of $36 million related to the restructuring and warranty costs.

First Solar attributed its second-quarter growth to the number of projects under construction that met revenue recognition criteria during the quarter, including Silver State North in Nevada and the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One in California. 

The latter project, a 230-megawatt (MW) farm that will power 75,000 homes north of Los Angeles, is one of the largest solar projects in the world. It is owned by Exelon, but First Solar is building and maintaining it.

First Solar is also behind the $2 billion project in southern California owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, who stepped in after the solar company failed to get a Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee. 

The First Solar development unit is focusing on selling more complete projects like these, the company’s CEO Jim Hughes told financial analysts during the company’s earnings call.

"We’re in discussions for a whole series of joint-venture relationships," Hughes said during the call. "There should be a steady stream of announcements that reflect us continuing to get our feet under us." 

Some analysts question whether First Solar can keep up the pace, reports Bloomberg.

"This does not represent tangible demand," wrote Gordon Johnson, an analyst with Axiom Capital Management, in an email to Bloomberg. "The company is pulling forward future revenue to cushion its current income statement. We see rising risk to the company’s earnings trajectory in 2013. 

Still, First Solar is the only company among the 17-company Global Solar Index tracked by Bloomberg expected to report a profit for the second quarter.

The company is developing 2.9 gigawatts of solar projects in the US, Canada and Australia that have already been sold, and it announced another new project this week in California, the 139-megawatt Campo Verde Solar farm that will sell power to San Diego Gas & Electric under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

For more coverage of the First Solar earnings:

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