First Solar: The Solar Module Recycling Opportunity Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for First Solar: The Solar Module Recycling Opportunity case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. First Solar: The Solar Module Recycling Opportunity case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Ram Subramanian. The First Solar: The Solar Module Recycling Opportunity (referred as “Recycling Solar” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Leadership & Managing People. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Regulation, Strategy, Sustainability.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of First Solar: The Solar Module Recycling Opportunity Case Study

In 2014, the vice-president and director of recycling at the Arizona-based First Solar, Inc., the world's leading solar energy company, was considering a business plan to convert its solar panel recycling initiative from a cost centre to a profit-making business. Although the company pre-funded the recycling of photovoltaic solar panels by adding the recycling cost to the end-customers' purchase price, Europe had recently enacted laws requiring that solar modules be recycled after their useful life had ended. First Solar's vice-president and director of recycling recognized a business opportunity in recycling solar panels but wondered about the timing of entry into this area and the profit potential of such a move. How could they best position First Solar's recycling offering to take advantage of the North American recycling regulations that they believed were imminent but that had not yet transpired? Ram Subramanian is affiliated with Stetson University.

Case Authors : Ram Subramanian

Topic : Leadership & Managing People

Related Areas : Regulation, Strategy, Sustainability

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for First Solar: The Solar Module Recycling Opportunity Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004182) -10004182 - -
Year 1 3468753 -6535429 3468753 0.9434 3272408
Year 2 3953855 -2581574 7422608 0.89 3518917
Year 3 3947196 1365622 11369804 0.8396 3314142
Year 4 3248681 4614303 14618485 0.7921 2573260
TOTAL 14618485 12678727

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2674545

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Payback Period
2. Profitability Index
3. Internal Rate of Return
4. Net Present Value

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Recycling Solar shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Recycling Solar have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of First Solar: The Solar Module Recycling Opportunity

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Leadership & Managing People Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Recycling Solar often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Recycling Solar needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004182) -10004182 - -
Year 1 3468753 -6535429 3468753 0.8696 3016307
Year 2 3953855 -2581574 7422608 0.7561 2989682
Year 3 3947196 1365622 11369804 0.6575 2595345
Year 4 3248681 4614303 14618485 0.5718 1857444
TOTAL 10458779

The Net NPV after 4 years is 454597

(10458779 - 10004182 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004182) -10004182 - -
Year 1 3468753 -6535429 3468753 0.8333 2890628
Year 2 3953855 -2581574 7422608 0.6944 2745733
Year 3 3947196 1365622 11369804 0.5787 2284257
Year 4 3248681 4614303 14618485 0.4823 1566686
TOTAL 9487304

The Net NPV after 4 years is -516878

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9487304 - 10004182 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Recycling Solar to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Recycling Solar has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Recycling Solar can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Recycling Solar, then the stock price of the Recycling Solar should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Recycling Solar should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

References & Further Readings

Ram Subramanian (2018), "First Solar: The Solar Module Recycling Opportunity Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.