Technology

SunPower to Buy Foe in Solar Panel Dispute

SunPower's acquisition of SolarWorld Americas will combine companies that were at opposite ends of the debate over cheap solar panel imports.
Matthew HellerApril 19, 2018

In a solar industry consolidation apparently spurred by Trump administration tariffs on panel imports, SunPower has agreed to acquire rival SolarWorld Americas to boost its domestic manufacturing capability.

The deal unites two companies that, ironically, opposed each other in the dispute over panel imports, with SunPower lobbying heavily against a trade case brought by U.S. manufacturers including SolarWorld.

SunPower, one of the world’s largest solar companies, has asked the U.S. Trade Representative for an exclusion from the tariffs but Baird analyst Ben Kallo said the SolarWorld deal would allow the company to compete against Chinese imports should an exclusion be denied.

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Most of SunPower’s manufacturing is in the Philippines and Mexico. It now plans to make its cheaper “P-series” panels, which more directly compete with Chinese products, at SolarWorld’s factory in Hillsboro, Ore.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but SunPower expects it will close before June 30.

“The time is right for SunPower to invest in U.S. manufacturing, and SolarWorld Americas provides a great platform for us to implement our advanced P-Series solar panel manufacturing technology right here in our home market,” SunPower CEO Tom Werner said in a news release.

SolaWorld Americas, currently a subsidiary of the insolvent SolarWorld AG, is the leading U.S. manufacturer of solar panels. It opened the Hillsboro factory in 2008 to capitalize on surging solar demand but as Reuters reports, it struggled amid a dramatic increase in the production of cheaper solar products in Asia.

During the trade war, the Solar Energy Industries Association, which is chaired by a SunPower executive, blamed SolarWorld’s troubles on poor management and other internal failures rather than any failure to compete with subsidized foreign goods.

After the deal closes, SunPower will be the second-largest solar panel maker in the U.S. after First Solar, whose massive Ohio factory produces thin film solar.

“We are thrilled about this acquisition as it means quite simply, that our company can look forward to redoubled strength as it continues to innovate and expand into the future,” SolarWorld Americas CEO Jürgen Stein said.