First Solar, Inc. in 2013

By Robert A. Burgelman, Robert Eric Siegel, Morgan Hallmon
2013 | Case No. SM190B | Length 14 pgs.
An update to First Solar (A), this case highlights changes to the solar energy market between 2010 and 2013 and the resulting challenges that First Solar had to overcome. In addition to increased competition from highly subsidized Chinese manufacturers, First Solar lost its pricing advantage due to a steep decline in material costs for the competing solar cell technology, c-Sci. The 2008 global financial crisis spurred a dramatic decline in demand from subsidy markets, further intensifying competition. Within First Solar, the management team went through substantial turnover and was sharply divided over what the company’s core strategy should be.

Good financial discipline and several key business model decisions kept First Solar solvent. Through acquisitions, the company developed a competitive advantage in the systems business and pivoted away from subsidy markets, pursuing more sustainable markets elsewhere. Finally, First Solar hedged its bet on technology, adding c-Sci, the competing solar cell technology, to its portfolio through an acquisition. These shifts helped to restore optimism and position First Solar to resume a leadership role.

Learning Objective

To provide an update on First Solar and the actions it took to remain solvent between 2010-2013.
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