SolarWorld swoops for Bosch assets

Embattled German PV group SolarWorld has signed an agreement to acquire parts of Bosch’s solar business.

SolarWorld will take over Bosch’s 700MW cell production capacity and 200MW of module production capacity in the eastern German city of Arnstadt, SolarWorld said in an ad-hoc statement to the stock market.

In a so-called “asset deal,” SolarWorld Industries-Thüringen, a new subsidiary of SolarWorld AG, will take over great parts of Bosch Solar Energy’s manufacturing plants and other assets, securing 800 jobs at the Arnstadt site in cell and module production.

SolarWorld doesn’t say how much it will pay for the Bosch Solar parts, but discloses that the acquisition won’t reduce the financial resources of SolarWorld, which itself is struggling to stay afloat amid massive losses.

SolarWorld recently scrapped its estimate for the group’s 2013 revenue and shipments as the company is still awaiting the completion of a restructuring deal that will leave current shareholders with 95% of their investments wiped out, while Qatar Solar will inject €35m into the German company.

Bosch earlier this year announced its exit from the PV sector after losing billions of euros in it.

Two aspects of Bosch’s former solar empire will not be sold to SolarWorld, however, leaving the future of both hanging in the balance.

SolarWorld will not acquire rival German module maker Aleo Solar, Bosch confirms. Earlier this month Bosch-owned Aleo admitted that the potential buyer which seemed most interested in acquiring it had walked away from the bargaining table.

The “search continues” for a buyer, says Bosch, which has committed to funding Aleo through March 2014.

Likewise, the module-assembly plant Bosch Solar began running in France in spring 2012 has not been sold to SolarWorld.

That plant – at Vénissieux, near Lyon – is being shopped around to potential buyers in the PV sector and other industries, although it may ultimately be converted to producing different products for Robert Bosch.

The Vénissieux plant – reconverted from an older Bosch factory producing rail-injection pumps – was meant to be ramped up to 150MW of annual module capacity, although whether it ever reached that level is unclear.

Once the transaction is completed, SolarWorld will have production capacities of more than 1GW along each of the wafer, cell and module stages of the solar value chain, the company claims.

SolarWorld plans to continue to supply existing cell and module customers of Bosch Solar Energy.

“The production plant for high-performance mono-crystalline cells will complement SolarWorld’s technological portfolio,” SolarWorld says.

“Research and development activities aiming to improve high efficiency solar cells will be pooled to create further competitive advantages for the group and enable further cost reductions.”

The transaction is still subject to the relevant antitrust approval and is expected to close in late February 2014.

SolarWorld CEO Frank Asbeck said the take-over of Bosch's cell and module manufacturing won't endanger SolarWorld's own restructuring efforts, and will create the biggest solar crystalline producer outside China.

"On the contrary, together we can return to profitability faster," Asbeck said in a company release. "The manufacturing in Arnstadt completes our own manufacturing capacities in Freiberg and Hillsboro in an excellent way. Technologically, Bosch is a great gain."

Asked by Recharge how SolarWorld plans to finance the continuation of both itself and the hitherto loss-making Bosch units, Asbeck in a conference call today said Qatar Solar Technology is providing both actual loans and back-up credit lines that his company is regarding as sufficient to ensure the continuation of SolarWorld.

So far, the company hasn't tapped into the credit lines, however, he added, without disclosing the volume of either the loans or the credit facilities.

Qatar Solar Technologies in the wake of the restructuring will take a 29% stake in SolarWorld, while the German company already owns 29% in Qatar Solar Technologies. The Quatari development bank owns another 1% in Quatar Solar Technologies, while an investment unit of the semi-private Qatar Foundation holds the remaining 70%.

Asbeck also said his company won't revive previous plans by Bosch to build up manufacturing in Malaysia.