Flashback to 2011. The global solar photovoltaics (PV) manufacturing industry experienced the biggest consolidation in its short history. Driven by generous solar subsidies, manufacturers increased capacity to match the increasing global demand. However, regulatory changes in different countries reduced solar demand and led to an unsustainable oversupply situation. Solar module prices went down, turning margins of the high-cost producers from profits into losses and leading to a wave of bankruptcy filings.
Flash-forward to 2015. With over 10 gigawatts (GW) installed worldwide, First Solar is today the global leader provider of PV energy solutions. By integrating technologies and expertise across the entire value chain, First Solar delivers solar energy solutions that maximize value for investors and customers across the world.
First Solar has arranged its business around its proprietary Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) technology and focused on creating value in two main segments: components and systems. While the first focuses on the design, manufacturing and sale of solar PV modules, the latter provides the complete turn-key PV solar power system. First Solar can do so by leveraging its capabilities in project development, Engineering-Procurement-Construction (EPC) services, Operations & Maintenance (O&M) services and project finance.
Industry analysts believe the PV module is becoming a commodity. In an industry traditionally dominated by low-cost Chinese suppliers, First Solar emerged as the lowest cost per watt option with its innovative CdTe thin-film technology. The company focuses on driving cost further down and maintain good margins.
Sustainable growth, by focusing on sustainable markets
First Solar has been looking to expand into developing markets with a combination of increasing price of power generation, vast solar resource and industry in need for cheap energy alternatives.  As CEO Jim Hughes stated, “You have to look at time of day, season and location to determine the true cost of power, and there are lots of times of day, seasons and locations where solar is economic today without subsidy. So our focus is to find those places, times of day, and market structures where we can apply ourselves.” 
The company has implemented the structure and processes to reduce costs and tap opportunities in emerging solar markets according to its business model.
Differentiation through vertical integration
First Solar focused on leveraging its expertise in the design, manufacturing and sale of PV modules to expand towards the development, construction, operations, maintenance and recycling of turnkey PV systems. That way, the company established its presence across the entire solar value and differentiated from competitors who lacked its capabilities. 
Product Research & Development
First Solar invests in R&D more than any of its competitors.  Historically, the low cost of First Solar’s CdTe modules has been the key to its market performance. The company managed to increase the module conversion efficiency 0.5% per year for the last 10 years. That allowed First Solar to win two world records for PV efficiency and stay ahead its competitors in cost reduction. In addition, First Solar is investing heavily in the development of proprietary PV plant control, energy scheduling and forecasting systems, which ensure reliability and stable grid integration for the end-consumer.
The company manufactures its modules in high throughput, automated environment that integrates all steps into a continuous flow line.  It only takes 2.5 hours to manufacture the complete PV module. First Solar operates 18 manufacturing lines in 7 factories, each line producing 2,500 modules per day. Over the last years, First Solar has focused on improving durability and manufacturing efficiencies. Its proprietary PV module manufacturing process is shown in the video below.
First Solar requires a sizable pipeline of projects in different geographies to deliver future growth. As of today, the company has developed one of the largest contracted solar power pipelines in the world (approximately 3 Gigawatts). 
In 2013, the company decided to acquire TetraSun, a start-up manufacturer of high-efficiency crystalline silicon modules for use in specific applications with limited space.
In 2014, the company acquired Skytron, a provider of monitoring and control systems for PV plants. Those acquisitions reinforced the company’s capabilities to deliver according to its business model.
First Solar executed many joint ventures with local project developers in attractive emerging countries. Such arrangements allow it to expedite its penetration and establish relationships quickly. Furthermore, it also created a joint venture with GE to develop the next generation of fully-integrated PV systems.
First Solar has developed a well-executed operating strategy to sustain its cost competitive advantage and global leadership position. The company went even further to make solar PV the cheapest energy solution in a variety of places, making our world a cleaner and more sustainable place.
 Interview with First Solar CEO, Jim Hughes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVmxpKtIh0w
 2014 Annual Report, http://investor.firstsolar.com