Avancis to grow under Chinese owner

Avancis, the Germany-based thin-film PV manufacturer owned by French glass giant Saint-Gobain, is readying itself for a sale to China National Buildings Material Group Corporation, which plans to rapidly expand production.

CNBM, which has 180,000 employees and chalked up revenues of €30.8bn ($43bn) last year, says it will leverage its ownership of Avancis to become “intensely involved” in China’s solar-energy push.

CNBM plans to restart module production in Torgau, eastern Germany, where Avancis owns 120MW of capacity. CNBM will also continue to operate Avancis’s tech lab in Munich, calling further development of the company’s CIS technology an “essential prerequisite” to its expansion plans, which will focus on Asia and Europe.

All 240 current Avancis employees will be kept on, the new company will honour Avancis’ existing warranties, and it will retain the name Avancis GmbH.

The takeover – which is contingent on regulatory approval – is the latest in a string of recent acquisitions of ailing or bankrupt German PV manufacturers by Asian companies.

In February Aleo Solar, majority owned by Germany’s Robert Bosch, announced that a consortium of Asian investors led by Taiwanese PV cell maker Sunrise Global Solar would acquire it and its 350MW of module capacity in northern Germany.

Qatar Solar’s €36m investment in SolarWorld, meanwhile, was central to that company’s recently completed restructuring programme.

Founded by Saint-Gobain and oil supermajor Shell, and originally based in California, Avancis began production of modules based on copper, indium, selenide (CIS) technology in the late 1990s, making it the oldest producer in a technological niche now dominated by Japan’s Solar Frontier.

In 2009 Shell was bought out in the venture by Saint-Gobain, itself a €40bn company, and Avancis appeared to kick its ambitions into a higher gear.

Over the next few years the company announced a joint venture with Hyundai Heavy Industries, with the intention of opening a factory in Korea, and a memorandum of understanding intended to lead to a factory in Saudi Arabia.

However, neither of those factories came to fruition amid the PV industry’s downturn, which was brutal to PV manufacturers based in Europe – and especially those focused on thin-film technology. The JV with Hyundai Heavy is reported to have piled up losses exceeding $70m in 2011 and 2012.

After announcing its Saudi MOU in October 2012, Avancis did not make a single public announcement for 17 months.

This February, however, things appeared to perk up when Avancis’ Munich lab reported that it had broken the world record for conversion-efficiency of an encapsulated CIS module, at 16.6%.

CNBM claims to already own Sinoi and CTFSolar in Germany, which are respectively a maker of wind-turbine rotor blades based in Nordhausene and a CdTe thin-film PV maker with locations in Frankfurt and Dresden.