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SunPower to acquire SolarWorld Americas and return to US manufacturing

SunPower's decision will be seen by many as further vindication of the Trump administration's solar tariffs following JinkoSolar's recent US factory announcement

In a deal with consequences for the global renewables market, California-based PV group SunPower has agreed to acquire rival manufacturer SolarWorld Americas and inject fresh capital into its factory near Portland, Oregon.

The acquisition marks SunPower’s return to US manufacturing, having made most of its cells and panels in Southeast Asia and Mexico in recent years. SunPower claims the acquisition will make it the largest US solar panel manufacturer.

As such, the deal will be seen by many as further vindication of the Trump administration’s tariffs on solar imports imposed earlier this year. Just three weeks ago China’s JinkoSolar – the world’s largest PV manufacturer – announced it will open its first US factory in Jacksonville, Florida, to supply customer NextEra Energy.

“The time is right for SunPower to invest in US manufacturing, and SolarWorld Americas provides a great platform for us to implement our advanced P-Series solar panel manufacturing technology right here in our home market,” says SunPower chief executive Tom Werner.

SolarWorld Americas is a subsidiary of – though a separate legal entity from – Germany’s SolarWorld, which filed for insolvency again earlier this year. SolarWorld Americas has continued to operate throughout its parent company’s years-long financial struggles, and was one of the initiators of the US trade case that led the Trump administration to impose tariffs on most imported PV equipment.

The purchase price was not disclosed, and the acquisition is subject to regulatory approval in the US and Germany.

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The news lit up US solar stocks on Wednesday, with SunPower shares up more than 11% in early trading, to around $9.30, and First Solar shares up more than 6%.

SunPower explained the deal by saying it wants to capitalise on “strong US market demand”.

Solar has risen from being the little brother of the renewables industry to its star player, with around 10.6GW added last year in the US, compared to around 7GW of new wind. On a global basis, roughly twice as much solar was installed as wind last year.

Analysts see onshore wind as having a bit of edge over solar over the next few years in the US as developers race to take advantage of the fading production tax credit, but solar is expected to surge past wind again in the early 2020s.

SunPower plans to invest in factory improvements in Oregon, including retrofitting a portion of the facility to produce its high-efficiency P-Series panels. The plant will also continue to produce and ship SolarWorld Americas’ legacy products.

Jürgen Stein, chief executive of SolarWorld Americas, says: “This outcome is ideal for SolarWorld Americas and its employees.”

“Our hundreds of long-time employees are excited to be part of this next chapter in SolarWorld Americas’ long history,” Stein says.

SunPower is majority owned by French energy group Total, which separately on Wednesday deepened its already substantial push into renewables by announcing a €1.4bn ($1.7bn) acquisition of Direct Energie.

SunPower had indicated in recent weeks that it planned to begin manufacturing in the US in response to the trade tariffs.

Rival manufacturer First Solar operates a factory in Perrysburg, Ohio – but unlike SunPower, First Solar is not subject to the trade tariffs because of its focus on thin-film technology.

SunPower will continue to seek exemptions to US trade tariffs for the products it makes overseas.

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