With a population of just 25,000 and located over an hour’s drive from the nearest airport, few people have an obvious reason to visit Perrysburg, Ohio. However, less than two weeks ago your author was down in Ohio. The reason: a chance to visit the largest solar manufacturing complex in the western hemisphere. Opportunities such as these do not come along every day.

At 2m square feet in size, the facility (owned by First Solar) is an impressive site to behold. We were not allowed to take any photographs, but to get an impression of its scale, consider that the complex is equivalent to more than 30 football pitches. A typical ‘big box’ warehouse used by a retailer is around a fifth of the size of First Solar’s plant. Rather than walk, golf buggies were used to ferry us around the facility.

The complex was described to us as “a model of 21st Century high volume manufacturing.” It operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year, with employees working in 4 shifts. A sheet of glass that enters the production line in Perrysburg can be transformed within less than 4 hours into a completed module, available for flash-testing before being packaged and ready for shipment. Somewhere in the world (First Solar also operates plants in India, Malaysia and Vietnam) a completed panel will roll off its production lines every 1.2 seconds.

On our tour, the level of plant automation was what stood out most. For a plant of this size, around 120 employees are needed for each shift. Much of the (literal) heavy lifting is done by robots. It was indeed a mesmerising sight to watch banks of machines working in harmony to move panels around. Much of the equipment within the Perrysburg site, we were told, was custom designed by partners with whom First Solar may have had relationships dating back many years. AI and machine learning received an obligatory mention too. Some of the machines are apparently self-learning, able to spot faults and perform predictive maintenance.

Renewable energy is a hot topic with demand to run for many years. Since the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was passed last year, over 50 new or expanded solar projects have been announced in the US. The Solar Energy Industry Association correspondingly estimates that by 2026 the US solar ecosystem will be over 15 times its pre-IRA size. If such forecasts come to fruition, then expect more mega solar factories to be built. Beyond Ohio, First Solar has already announced expansion plans into Alabama and Louisiana.  

21 September 2023

The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Heptagon Capital is an investor in First Solar. The author of this piece has no personal direct investment in the business. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.

Click here to view all Blog posts

Disclaimers

The document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute investment advice or any recommendation to buy, or sell or otherwise transact in any investments. The document is not intended to be construed as investment research. The contents of this document are based upon sources of information which Heptagon Capital LLP believes to be reliable. However, except to the extent required by applicable law or regulations, no guarantee, warranty or representation (express or implied) is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this document or its contents and, Heptagon Capital LLP, its affiliate companies and its members, officers, employees, agents and advisors do not accept any liability or responsibility in respect of the information or any views expressed herein. Opinions expressed whether in general or in both on the performance of individual investments and in a wider economic context represent the views of the contributor at the time of preparation. Where this document provides forward-looking statements which are based on relevant reports, current opinions, expectations and projections, actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. All opinions and estimates included in the document are subject to change without notice and Heptagon Capital LLP is under no obligation to update or revise information contained in the document. Furthermore, Heptagon Capital LLP disclaims any liability for any loss, damage, costs or expenses (including direct, indirect, special and consequential) howsoever arising which any person may suffer or incur as a result of viewing or utilising any information included in this document. 

The document is protected by copyright. The use of any trademarks and logos displayed in the document without Heptagon Capital LLP’s prior written consent is strictly prohibited. Information in the document must not be published or redistributed without Heptagon Capital LLP’s prior written consent. 

Heptagon Capital LLP, 63 Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HS
tel +44 20 7070 1800
email [email protected] 

Partnership No: OC307355 Registered in England and Wales Authorised & Regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority 

Heptagon Capital Limited is licenced to conduct investment services by the Malta Financial Services Authority.

Related Insights

Alzheimer’s: The final healthcare frontier
  • Featured Insights

Alzheimer’s: The final healthcare frontier

Season 6, Post 16: From golf course to warehouse
  • Featured Insights

Season 6, Post 16: From golf course to warehouse

Season 6, Post 14: My type of fish
  • Featured Insights

Season 6, Post 14: My type of fish

GET THE UPDATES

Sign up to our monthly email newsletter for the latest fund updates, webcasts and insights.