SunPower to buy SolarWorld

Source: By Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2018

SunPower Corp. announced plans to buy SolarWorld Americas in an effort to get around President Trump’s solar tariffs.

The agreement, if approved by regulators, could make California-based SunPower the largest U.S. manufacturer of solar panels.

SolarWorld Americas, which oversees a factory in Hillsboro, Ore., was one of two companies that requested tariffs be slapped on cells and modules to revive U.S. solar manufacturing. As a result, Trump enacted 30 percent tariffs in January (E&E News PM, Jan. 23).

“The time is right for SunPower to invest in U.S. manufacturing, and SolarWorld Americas provides a great platform for us,” SunPower CEO Tom Werner said in a statement.

The company plans to manufacture its “P-series” modules — which compete with Chinese products — at the Oregon factory. Separately, SunPower is seeking an exemption from tariffs for another brand of higher-end solar components.

In January, SunPower said it was putting a $20 billion expansion on hold because of Trump’s trade action (E&E News PM, Jan. 26).

Hugh Bromley, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said there have been murmurs that SunPower would move more manufacturing to the U.S. since the start of the trade case last year. With factories in Malaysia, Mexico and the Philippines, it was “otherwise tenuous” for SunPower to argue it remained an American company, despite being based in San Jose, he said.

“SunPower may be hoping this announcement bolsters its case to be made exempt from the solar import tariffs. The firm has sought an exemption on the basis that it produces a differentiated, premium technology to the bulk of solar imports. Adding a transition plan toward U.S.-based manufacturing may help that cause,” Bromley said.

SunPower, Tesla Inc. and First Solar Inc. now are vying for the title of largest U.S. panel maker. “The titleholder depends on how far ahead you look and whether you believe these companies can scale as promised,” Bromley said.

Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed. SolarWorld Americas is the U.S. branch of Germany-based SolarWorld AG, which filed for bankruptcy again last month.

Most of the solar industry is opposed to tariffs, saying that price spikes will kill jobs and do little to help SolarWorld and Suniva Inc., the other petitioner in the case. Tariff supporters say trade barriers are needed to block an unfair flood of solar components primarily from Chinese-backed companies.