SunPower to buy AUO’s stake in cell JV

SunPower will take over the 800 MW Malaysian cell production facility it developed under a joint venture with AU Optronics (AUO) in 2010. The deal will allow SunPower to carry out technology upgrades on the facility and “resolves a dispute between the two companies,” a SunPower statement reveals.

The nature of the dispute is not expanded on in the statement. Under the conditions of the $1.2 billion JV agreement, entered into in July 2010, any dispute between the companies under the agreement requiring arbitration was to be settled by a court in San Francisco. California. In the initial JV filings, the companies committed to making a $350 million equity investment and procuring the remaining debt financing required to develop the facility.

Under the agreement dissolving the JV announced yesterday, SunPower will continue to source wafers from AUO, with the Taiwanese company committing to purchasing 100 MW of SunPower’s E-series modules.

“SunPower is working to increase our future manufacturing capacity for our highest-value products while driving down costs,” said SunPower CEO Tom Werner, in a statement. “We will thoughtfully manage capacity during the current industry volatility, but we are committed to being a leading upstream industry participant over the long term, leveraging our unique, high-value solar panel technologies. Purchasing AUO’s portion of the Melaka joint venture is an opportunity for us to enable technology upgrades, cost reductions and future expansion consistent with this strategy.”

SunPower said that it would carry out upgrades to the manufacturing facility, located in Melaka, Malaysia, and notes that there is potential to add production capacity at the site. When initially developed, the Melaka fab produced SunPower “Generation C” solar cells, with the U.S. company purchasing 80% to 95% of the output on a “cost-plus” basis.

The transaction is expected to close by the end of the month.