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First Solar 'Made in EU' stamp comes with discount

Credential qualifies customers using EU-made First Solar products to get 10 percent premium over regular feed-in tariffs for their electricity.

First Solar's thin-film solar panels. First Solar

First Solar has been granted the right to use "Made in EU" or "Made in Europe" on its thin-film solar panels made in Germany, the company announced Thursday.

The credential was granted based on the Conto Energia 4 (CE4) feed-in tariff program established by the Italian government as a means of getting companies to source materials and commit to manufacturing more goods from within Europe.

Of course, that does not mean all panels made by the Arizona-based company now have European-made status. The credential only applies to the company's Frankfurt, Germany facility. That plant, which employs more than 1,200 people, manufactures about 250-megawatts worth of solar panels, with a promise to eventually ramp up to making 500 megawatts worth annually.

Companies looking to gain CE4 status are only required to use at least 60 percent local-sourced material in order to qualify. First Solar did not say whether it exceeded the 60 percent mark, only that "most of the raw materials that First Solar uses for its German production are sourced within the European Union."

The credential is not just a boost to First Solar marketing. The real gain is the 10 percent premium over existing feed-in tariff rates for First Solar customers that comes with the title. What exactly does that mean? The new Conto Energio 4 regulations (PDF) for Italian feed-in tariffs that came out in May depend on a variety of factors, including when the system is built, how large it is, and where it's built. But it basically means that any energy producers using the "Made in Europe" First Solar products to make electricity will be paid a 10 percent premium for their electricity over the existing feed-in tariff rates for every kilowatt of electricity they produce in Italy.

Just as governments offer special rates to support those producing electricity from renewable energy, Italy is taking it one step further by offering this additional bump to those producing renewables with "Made in Europe" products. The incentive is intended to get European companies who might otherwise choose to go with cheaper foreign-made solar products to buy European ones, and get foreign companies to consider investing in manufacturing facilities and materials in Europe.

It's an idea other countries looking to support the green tech industry might look to as a way to support new companies, especially the U.S. U.S.-based solar start-ups Evergreen Solar and Solyndra have both struggled, and each ultimately filed for bankruptcy, trying to compete against Chinese-backed solar manufacturers able to offer better prices. A recent study commissioned by the Solar Energy Industry Association found that about 70 percent of solar panels bought and installed in the U.S. are manufactured in Asia.