SolarWorld Americas says it plans to add 200 employees by May

SolarWorld

Hot on the heels of the trade case ruling in its favor, SolarWorld Americas sent word that its ramping up production and hiring up to 200 workers by May. “By the end of the ramp,” as the company phrased it, SolarWorld Americas will employ about 500 people, some of them returning employees.

“Our struggle has always been about keeping alive the pioneering U.S. solar-technology industry as well as its workforce, from Ph.D. scientists to line workers,” said Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas. “With relief from surging imports in sight, we believe we can rev up our manufacturing engine and increase our economic impact.”

The point was made by SEIA that the petitioners hadn’t produced a plan to show their path to viability if they did receive a favorable ruling, and maybe this announcement is a step in that direction. And hopefully there are still customers left to sell these products to come May.

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Bipartisan group of lawmakers urge ITC to oppose solar tariffs

solar tariffs

A bipartisan group of 16 senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives sent open letters to U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) Chairman Rhonda Schmidtlein urging the ITC to reject a petition that would slap tariffs on imported solar panels and cells.

“Solar companies in our states believe the requested trade protection would double the price of solar panels,” the Senate letter to the ITC said. “Increasing costs will stop solar growth dead in its tracks, threatening tens of thousands of American workers in the solar industry and jeopardizing billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country.”

The ITC is evaluating a petition that Chinese-owned solar company, Suniva, filed with the agency in April shortly after declaring bankruptcy. It was later joined by German-owned SolarWorld, also in bankruptcy. The agency is considering whether these two companies out of more than 8,000 across the U.S. solar industry deserve tariff relief that would impact the entire market.

The letters come just days before the ITC holds its first public hearing on the petition on Aug. 15. Hundreds of solar workers from all over the country, including California, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia, will converge in Washington to explain the personal impact this case could have on their livelihoods.

The American solar industry is growing 17 times faster than the rest of the economy, and created 1 out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. last year. Implementing trade barriers would double solar prices, grinding growth to a halt and forcing 88,000 Americans — one-third of the U.S. solar workforce today — to lose their jobs just next year.

SEIA submits prehearing brief on Suniva petition to ITC — read the summary here

Lawmakers who led the letter effort to the ITC include: Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Representatives Mark Sanford (R-SC), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Pat Meehan (R-PA) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA).

“This letter shows that trade tariffs are not a red or blue state issue,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “If these barriers are implemented, one of the fastest growing U.S. industries will be halted in its tracks, thousands of Americans will lose their jobs and billions of dollars of private investment will dry up.”

“We are thankful these lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol, recognize the solar industry’s massive impact on their states’ economies, and the irreparable harm this case could bring to families and businesses across our country,” Hopper said.

— Solar Builder magazine

SolarWorld Americas launches new Warranty Protection Program, receives cash infusion

Despite word of significant layoffs, and the ongoing insolvency proceedings of its Germany-based parent company (which the company says doesn’t affect them), SolarWorld Americas Inc., one of the largest U.S. crystalline-silicon solar manufacturers, continues to make moves.

New Warranty Program

SolarWorld

SolarWorld also announced more customer protections, which would be crucial in this somewhat precarious position. The SolarWorld Assurance Warranty Protection Program, featuring supplemental protection plans for residential and small commercial customers, includes the standard 20-year product warranty and a 25-year performance guarantee for most solar panels. But in addition to SolarWorld Americas’ product warranty and performance guarantee, the SolarWorld Assurance program provides supplemental, third-party-backed warranties to the system owner with no deductibles.

The Dual Warranty protection plan is for solar panels installed this year, and SolarWorld covers the premium. The Extend Warranty plan covers solar panels installed from 2012 through 2016.

The SolarWorld Assurance Warranty Protection Program is backed by an A.M. Best “A”-rated company and covers systems from 3 to 20 kilowatts. The warranties immediately go into effect in the event that the original factory coverage could no longer be supported; they also are transferable to new system owners.

“SolarWorld has been innovating product offerings for more than 40 years,” said Shane Messer, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “The SolarWorld Assurance Program is another first. By offering this program, we’re providing true, secondary warranties to our customers, with no deductibles, to assure peace of mind.”

SolarWorld Americas now decides to join Suniva’s 201 trade petition

Cash infusion

SolarWorld also sent word about a double-digit-million-dollar infusion of cash to enable the company to stabilize and optimize operations through 2017 and beyond. In the immediate, lenders of SolarWorld have agreed to forward $6 million in cash to the U.S. company, said Juergen Stein, president of SolarWorld Americas. Stein said the lenders also will permit SolarWorld to sell assets not required for operations and put the proceeds to use in funding operations.

In the near term, the company expects such a sale to result in a total, combined cash infusion in the double-digit-million-dollar range, Stein said.

“This financial reinforcement is good for our customers and suppliers alike,” Stein said. “It means quite simply that we can reassure our business partners that we will remain a reliable force not only in supplying leading solar technology but also in continuing to fight for fair trade in the U.S. market and improving market conditions there.”

— Solar Builder magazine

SolarWorld Americas now decides to join Suniva’s 201 trade petition

SolarWorld

SolarWorld always agreed with the premise that Chinese competition was unfair for the U.S. solar module market, but it sounded to us like SolarWorld was still against Suniva’s 201 petition, noting that it preferred that “any action to be taken against unfair trade shall consider all parts of the U.S. solar value chain.” After assessing further, and now that Suniva’s case is being investigated by the ITC, SolarWorld Americas Inc., is joining as a co-petitioner in the Section 201 safeguards case.

“We have hoped and waited for serious proposals for settling the overall U.S. solar industry’s trade tensions with China, but we have received none,” said Juergen Stein, President of SolarWorld Americas. “Therefore, we have decided to join the case to pursue the best remedy available to us to restore fair competition in the U.S. market.”

“The U.S. solar industry cannot afford to give away the future of critical renewable-energy manufacturing industries,” Stein continued. “We must take a stand in favor of preserving intellectual property, production know-how and U.S. manufacturing jobs, all of which have sprung from a vital industry pioneered on U.S. soil since the 1970s.”

Similar to Suniva’s timing, this announcement comes after its management board in Germany decided to file for insolvency proceedings. The company came to the conclusion that due to the ongoing price erosion and the development of the business, it no longer has “a positive going concern prognosis,” is therefore over-indebted and thus obliged to make this move.

“In light of the foregoing, the management board will now immediately file for insolvency proceedings with the competent local court (court of insolvency),” stated the SolarWorld board.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar coaster news: SolarWorld insolvent, Ten K stops operations, SunPower down

solar coaster bankruptcy

Not as fun as it looks.

The solar coaster feels like an apt description for the up and down nature of the industry except for the part where roller coasters are fun. The dips in the solar coaster are considerably less so. After cresting to the top of another climb in 2016 — passing the ITC, installing more solar than ever – we have now started that familiar descent of slower growth, trade pressure and insolvencies. Here are some of the most notable casualties so far.

SolarWorld goes insolvent – U.S. subsidiary says it will continue operating

The management board of Germany-based SolarWorld AG issued a statement that, after having conducted a diligent review, has decided to file for insolvency proceedings. The company came to the conclusion that due to the ongoing price erosion and the development of the business, it no longer has “a positive going concern prognosis,” is therefore over-indebted and thus obliged to make this move.

“In light of the foregoing, the management board will now immediately file for insolvency proceedings with the competent local court (court of insolvency),” stated the SolarWorld board.

SolarWorld was pushed to the brink several years ago because of similar pressure from Asian solar module manufacturing and sales practices, and the company fought for, and received, anti-dumping and countervailing duties against manufacturers in China and Taiwan in the U.S.

Since that time, according to GTM Research data, imports from China “have virtually disappeared in the past 2 years accounting for just 7% in the first two months of 2017” and Taiwan imports are all but gone. At the same time, U.S. manufacturing capacity has doubled. But now we see this was perhaps more of a Band-Aid over a much larger wound as market gaps were filled elsewhere. “Imports from Southeast Asia and Korea have skyrocketed, from 15% and 7% in Q1 2015 to 55% and 21% in Q4 2016 respectively,” GTM notes. As a result, despite the doubled capacity, U.S. share dropped below 15 percent overall while market prices fell drastically.

All of this international trade pressure seems to much for it to bear, at least in Europe. SolarWorld Americas Inc., based in Hillsboro, Ore., however, reports that it’s operating as usual and maintaining full operations. SolarWorld Americas, the largest U.S. crystalline-silicon solar manufacturer for more than 42 years, is continuing to implement efficiencies and working with external partners to position the company for stabilization and a continued competitive position in the marketplace.

“We deeply appreciate the ongoing support of our loyal customers in the Americas at this tumultuous time for the solar industry,” said Juergen Stein, U.S. president of SolarWorld. “Together, we are striving to maintain our leadership role in the U.S. solar manufacturing industry for years to come.”

Did Suniva just start a global trade war? A quick summary

Ten K Solar discontinues current operation

Ten K Solar, a company that had a really intriguing system that we profiled here, says it will be “discontinuing its current operation” and terminating many of the services it formerly provided to customers.

The company seemed to be trending up after netting a single equity investment of $25 million from a group led by Goldman Sachs, but the solar coaster cares little for such things.

“The most recent 18 months have proven to be difficult for companies in the solar industry,” the statement said. “Ten K Solar has not been immune to those difficulties as significant price pressures and scale have proved a significant barrier to profitable growth.”

The company “has decided to reposition the business to live within the constraints of these marketplace realities.”
It’s unclear what that reposition will be and whether or not bankruptcy is on the table.

For more on the Ten K news, head to the Star Tribune.

SunPower sees continued losses

This feels somewhat like standard operating procedure for all of the country’s largest solar companies, but SunPower reported continued losses in the first quarter of 2017 ($134.5 million) and forecasts more going forward (between $110 million to $135 million in Q2). Some of this, the company notes, is because it is switching up its business model, moving away from utility-scale to focus more on residential and commercial. While this makes sense given the bigger advantages to its technology in residential and commercial projects, those markets are softening. Also, its high-efficiency system advantages are seeing more competition from the likes of LG and Panasonic.

SunPower launches new tool to improve buying, selling of solar systems

Enphase Energy reports sluggish Q1 results

Enphase Energy reported total revenue for the first quarter of 2017 of $54.8 million and a GAAP gross margin of 12.9 percent, which was lower than expected. GAAP operating loss for the first quarter of 2017 was $22.1 million and non-GAAP operating loss was $12.9 million. GAAP net loss for the first quarter of 2017 was $23.3 million, or a net loss of $0.30 per share. On a non-GAAP basis, net loss was $13.6 million, or a net loss of $0.18 per share.

“Our revenue for the first quarter was lower than expected due to the extraordinarily wet winter in California, where we have a significant presence,” said Paul Nahi, president and CEO of Enphase Energy. “We started shipping our Enphase Home Energy Solution with IQ, our sixth-generation integrated solar, storage and energy management offering, in the U.S. at the end of the first quarter. We look forward to the U.S. launch of our integrated AC solar modules, developed with our partners, during the second quarter. These modules, which we believe are the future of rooftop solar, will include our sixth-generation microinverters, creating a simpler and more consolidated solution.”

Revenue expectations for the second quarter of 2017 are within a range of $72 million to $80 million.

The entire solar industry reported a down Q1, that most everyone is chalking up to bad weather, but some onlookers aren’t buying this as a sufficient explanation for Enphase’s quarter. From stock analyst website Seeking Alpha:

What makes this miss particularly ugly is that the Q1 guidance was given two months into the quarter and it was already well below expectations with management blaming rains in California as the main reason for the low guidance. With that backdrop, the miss of over 10% at the mid-point was exceptionally bad.

— Solar Builder magazine