Insolvent German solar module-maker Solarworld AG sought new life in a slimmed-down alliance with a state-owned Qatari investor.
Solarworld founder Frank Asbeck and Qatar Solar Technologies took a 51% and 49% stake respectively in the new venture, Solarworld Industries GmbH, according to a statement on its website. The new closely-held company will reduce payroll by 72%, to 500 workers at two production sites in eastern Germany with headquarters in Bonn.
The new SolarWorld will “significantly” cut costs while boosting the power output of its cells and modules, Asbeck said late Thursday in an interview in Berlin. “We can’t compete in dumping but we can compete by selling better quality for fair prices.”
The reborn Solarworld is pinning its survival on the financial clout of a Qatari partner. Qatar is a strategic investor in Germany with stakes worth about €25bn ($29.4bn) in companies including Volkswagen AG.
Qatar is attracted by “the strength of the economy” in Germany, according to a statement from Qatar’s envoy to Berlin, ambassador Sheikh Saoud Abdulrahman al-Thani.
“Of course labour costs here mean the product, the solar cells, will cost more, and we could have gone somewhere else to get them cheaper, but Qatar chose not to do that,” al-Thani is cited as saying.
Relentless competition from China has driven down the costs of solar module production. Solarworld’s failure to keep pace with dropping costs subsequently steered Europe’s last full silicium-to-module producer into bankruptcy in May. Neither Asbeck nor QSTec commented on the price paid for bankrupt Solarworld assets. The move “fully aligns with QSTec’s vision of being a world leading integrated solar company,” QSTec’s chairman and chief executive officer Khalid K al-Hajri is cited as saying on the Doha-based company’s website.
QSTec this year started polysilicon production at Ras Laffan industrial city with 8,000 tonnes of capacity. The company said it aims to expand polysilicon output in the Middle East and North Africa to over 50,000 metric tonnes annually. The new company will look to gain market share as costs continue to fall in the global build-out of solar power by focusing on so-called mono PERC modules, said Milan Nitzschke, the former vice president, in a separate interview.
The rebooted Solarworld targets annual production of 700 megawatts of the panels, which amplify the sun’s rays to boost power, before ramping up to 1 gigawatt, its pre-insolvency output, Nitzschke said. The new company will take over Solarworld’s current sales operations in Europe, Asia and Africa, said Nitzschke. To save costs, will transform its research and development operations into an institute co-financed by external partners, he said.
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