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Today in Cleantech

The news of the day is all about First Solar, the low-cost thin-film solar panel leader that’s about to have a lot more business, thanks to a combined $4.5 billion in federal conditional loan guarantees. Thursday saw the Department of Energy announce conditional backing for a combined 1.33 gigawatts of solar power projects — $680 million for the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch project in California, $1.88 billion for the Desert Sunlight project and $1.93 billion for the Topaz Solar project — all to be built with First Solar cadmium-telluride panels, which at 75 cents per watt are considered the cheapest in the business. First Solar’s share price had climbed more than 7 percent on the news — a nice boost, but not enough to counteract the 35-percent drop the company’s shares have seen from a 2011 peak of $175 in February, not to mention the decline from its all-time peak of $317 in May 2008. First Solar isn’t the only solar panel manufacturer to suffer from declines in the key European markets of Germany and Italy, and it also isn’t the only solar panel maker to see its shares shorted in recent months. In the short term, First Solar and its silicon solar panel competitors will have to deal with the oversupply and subsidy reduction situation in Europe. Longer term, First Solar will face increasing price pressures from China’s major panel manufacturers — and perhaps a challenge from other thin-film panel makers as well?