First Solar Snags Rooftop-Ready Technology in TetraSun Deal

First Solar Inc. (FSLR), the solar manufacturer that gets almost two-thirds of its revenue from building and selling large power plants to utilities, is acquiring a company developing technology for rooftops.

The company agreed to buy TetraSun, a startup developing high-efficiency solar panels for small rooftop systems, according to a statement today. First Solar plans to produce and market TetraSun products in Japan, Chief Executive Officer Jim Hughes said at an analyst meeting. Terms weren’t disclosed.

The deal fills a gap for First Solar, which doesn’t market its panels for rooftop solar systems. It also gives the Tempe, Arizona-based company access to Japan, which is expected to become the second-largest market this year. The deal is a significant departure for First Solar, the biggest producer of thin-film solar panels, because TetraSun’s technology uses silicon.

Japan is the highest value, space-constrained market so that’s why we’re starting there,” Hughes said today in an interview after the event.

TetraSun’s proprietary design can convert more than 21 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity, according to the statement. It uses silicon, the material used by most photovoltaic solar manufacturers including the Chinese producers that dominate the market. TetraSun’s panels have copper electrodes instead of silver, which reduces costs, the company said in July.

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“It’s a complementary technology set that opens to us the entire market,” Hughes said today on a conference call. First Solar’s panels use cadmium-telluride sandwiched between sheets of glass.

First Solar is buying TetraSun from JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. and other investors including TetraSun’s management. All 14 employees will remain with the San Jose, California-based company.

First Solar expects to open a factory that will produce about 25 megawatts to 50 megawatts of TetraSun panels next year for the Japanese market. Hughes said he hasn’t decided yet where to build the plant, which will initially produce as much as 100 megawatts of panels annually.

The company expects to sell a total of 1.6 gigawatts to 1.8 gigawatts of panels this year, according to a revised forecast issued today. Sales will be $3.8 billion to $4 billion.

About 64 percent of First Solar’s $1.08 billion in sales in the fourth quarter came from its systems business, which builds large solar farms and sells them to utility customers, and the rest from selling panels.

First Solar shares surged the most on record today, climbing 46 percent to $39.45 at the close in New York.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Martin in New York at cmartin11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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