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Made-in-Ohio solar panels benefit from federal incentives, supply chain politics

A once-novel solar power technology with Ohio roots is having a moment in the sun, along with two Toledo-area manufacturers.

Scientists had experimented with cadmium telluride solar panels in the lab since the 1950s, but the technology was commercialized just two decades ago after important groundwork by a pair of Ohio entrepreneurs who founded what would eventually become First Solar.

After years of fighting for a niche next to cheaper and more efficient crystalline silicon solar cells, cadmium telluride has recently closed the gap on cost and energy output. Cadmium telluride panels hold the largest worldwide market share among thin-film solar technologies, which use very thin layers of semiconductor material, versus thicker rigid crystalline silicon. 

On top of technological advances, the sector is poised to benefit from ongoing supply chain politics and new federal climate change legislation that incentivizes domestic manufacturing.

Those trends are fueling a solar manufacturing boom in Ohio, where despite hostile state and local policies against solar farms, two cadmium telluride manufacturers have announced major expansions that promise to add hundreds of jobs in the coming years.

First Solar plans to open its third Ohio factory later this year in Lake Township. That 3.3-gigawatt plant will be followed by a 1.3-million-square-foot research and development facility in Perrysburg, slated to open next year. Plans call for a fourth U.S. factory to open in Alabama in 2025, bringing the company’s total U.S. production capacity to roughly 10 GW.

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