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Recent European Solar Announcements Are Good News for the Solar Industry

To say that the European solar manufacturing industry has suffered some setbacks over the past few years would be an understatement. A glut of Chinese-made panels flooded the market in 2010, driving solar module prices to record lows and driving dozens of European and North American solar PV manufacturers out of business.

A trade war between the U.S. and China and then the EU and China ensued with SolarWorld, a leading European crystalline PV module manufacturer, spearheading the cause. Despite all of its efforts, however, last year SolarWorld AG announced that it was having financial difficulties and would be restructuring its operations.

Today, however, the outlook for that same European solar manufacturer is much brighter. Last month SolarWorld AG, announced that it was on solid financial footing after completing a financial restructuring. SolarWorld said that it expects to see higher sales this year and a return to operating profit in 2015. The company also announced that it is targeting a sales goal of EU €1 Billion by 2016.

In addition, today SolarWorld AG announced that it has completed its acquisition of Bosch Solar Energy’s cell and module production facility in Arnstadt, Germany. Together with its own module manufacturing unit, SolarWorld will now be the first facility in the EU capable of producing more than 1 GW of PV modules annually. This will make the company the largest manufacturer of solar power technology outside of Asia. Dr.-Ing. E.h. Frank Asbeck, the CEO of SolarWorld AG believes that the move means that his company now “offers a counterpoint to solar manufacturing in China,” he said in a statement.

By merging the resources of SolarWorld and Bosch Solar Energy, the company said that it plans to make a foray into the production of high-efficiency modules in the 300-W plus power category.  Packing more power conversion capability onto the same-sized module would lead to a 20 percent boost in module efficiency, it said. SolarWorld already uses PERC cell technology to improve solar yields and will deploy this technology in Arnstadt, as well.

According to Bosch and SolarWorld, about 800 Bosch employees will keep their jobs but will now be employed by SolarWorld AG. Further, Bosch said that another 250 will continue to work at the site as part of a “service organization and trading company.” In total, 1,000 of the currently 1,400 jobs at the Arnstadt location have been preserved.

“We have achieved our goal of selling parts of the operation and relocating an alternative Bosch business, and in this way of offering jobs to as many associates as possible,” said Dr. Volkmar Denner, Chairman of the Board of Management of Robert Bosch GmbH.

Aleo Solar Not Bankrupt After All

In addition to its now-complete deal with SolarWorld, Bosch is also working on another plan regarding Aleo Solar. Bosch holds more than 90 percent of a stake in Aleo. 

In early February 2014, Aleo Solar AG, based in Oldenburg and Prenzlau, Germany, signed an agreement to sell its module production in Prenzlau to SCP Solar GmbH. SCP Solar GmbH is a joint venture of the Taiwanese company Sunrise Global Solar Energy Co., Ltd., the Japanese company CHOSHU Industry Co., Ltd., and the U.K.-based Pan Asia Solar, Ltd. The buyer will also take over the “Aleo” brand, and intends to create jobs for roughly 200 associates, according to Bosch.

Bosch made it clear in announcing the deal that it would have been more financially sound for it to allow Aleo to go out of business. Bosch said that because it wanted to give the roughly 200 associates the chance of finding employment with the acquiring company, it “is accepting additional costs for this transaction running into seven figures.”

The transaction is subject to approval by general shareholders meeting and the antitrust authorities, among other things.

For the Bosch module plant in Vénissieux, France, the company said that it hopes to offer a comparable solution to the one for Arnstadt and that it is in “advanced talks” with a potential investor.

Although no financial details for any of these transactions were disclosed, overall, they indicate increasing investor confidence in a sector that was troubled not very long ago. Perhaps the sun is shining down more favorably on European solar technology manufacturers and if that is indeed the case, the solar industry as a whole can certainly begin to breath a sigh of relief.

Lead image: Solar Panel Against a Blue Sky via Shutterstock

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