After years of losing money on high-efficiency solar, SunPower last week finalized an agreement that will allow it to build what may end up being the world’s largest solar factory for its lower-cost P-Series modules in China.
At a ceremony on February 22, SunPower, industrial group Dongfang Electric and silicon giant Zhonghuan Semiconductor agreed to a joint venture to establish a factory with 21 production lines in an industrial district in Yixing City, in China’s Jiangsu Province.
No date for completion of the factory was given in statements on the Dongfang Electric or Zhonghuan Semiconductor sites, however Dongfang did state that once the factory is completed, the new joint venture DEC Dongfang Huanchen will rank among the top 10 solar module suppliers in the world.
The production facility will be the expansion of an existing factory and will build on the existing relationship between the companies. Dongfang and Zhonghuan are SunPower suppliers.
The P-Series is a dramatic departure from SunPower’s high-efficiency back-contact monocrystalline designs, and will feature overlapping half-cut multicrystalline PV cells. These will feature lower efficiencies of only 16-17.2%, but at a much lower cost than the company’s E-Series and X-Series modules, and are designed for deployment in competitive power markets, including in the developing world.
The only hint SunPower gave of this joint venture in its recent quarterly earnings call was to suggest that the company “plans on expanding our relationships in China to leverage low-cost China supply chain from our P-Series technology”. However, SunPower also forecast that it would reach over 400 MW of P-Series production by the end of 2017.
U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar products will mean that P-Series modules made by DEC Dongfang Huanchen will be at a relative disadvantage in the U.S. market. However, SunPower claims a pipeline of 850 MW of solar projects in Latin America, where such tariffs will not apply, and has also said that it plans to expand its activities in the Indian market.