SunPower to buy SolarWorld Americas

We did not see that coming.

Three weeks after SunPower CEO Tom Werner told Bloomberg and Reuters that his company was looking around for a location to site U.S. manufacturing, the company has revealed that this production will not be a greenfield site, but actually the factory of its bitter foe in the Section 201 trade case.

SunPower has agreed to acquire a 100% stake in SolarWorld Americas, based in Hillsboro, Oregon. SolarWorld Americas is currently a subsidiary of the insolvent SolarWorld AG, and managed by a German insolvency court. The German manufacturing assets of SolarWorld AG were sold to former CEO Frank Asbeck to form a new German company, making SolarWorld Americas Inc. and SolarWorld Industries GmbH separate entities.

As such the deal must be approved by U.S. and German authorities, and SunPower expects that the deal will close before June 30. The purchase price was not named.

SunPower says that it will inject fresh capital into the factory, which it plans to use to make its P-Series shingled solar panels, as well as SolarWorld’s legacy products.

The irony of this move is significant. The language SunPower CEO Werner used to describe SolarWorld in a press statement could not be more different than the scorn heaped upon the company by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which is chaired by SunPower VP Market Strategy and Policy Tom Starrs. SEIA has repeatedly told regulators that SolarWorld’s troubles were due to poor management and other internal failures and not its inability to compete with subsidized foreign goods.

However, today Tom Werner described SolarWorld as “one of the most respected manufacturers of high-quality solar panels for more than 40 years.”

The move may also help to deflect criticism of SunPower’s former lack of U.S. manufacturing. SunPower had all of its commercial-scale manufacturing in Southeast Asia and Mexico, in addition to a new factory under construction in China, and ships large volumes of product into the United States.

Following closely, SunPower will be the second-largest PV maker in the United States, after First Solar, whose massive Ohio factory produces thin film solar.

This also removes the threat of further trade action by SolarWorld. SolarWorld petitioned for the 2012 and 2014 anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs against Chinese cells and later Chinese and Taiwanese cells and modules, as well as joining Suniva’s petition for the Section 201 global tariffs on cells and modules.

As Suniva’s manufacturing assets may now be going into liquidation, it appears neither company will be in a position to file another trade case.

pv magazine will have more information on the acquisition when we speak with SunPower CEO Tom Werner later today.