Hanergy completes acquisition of MiaSolé


A picture of what the post-consolidation photovoltaic landscape may look like is beginning to become clear, as Chinese renewable energy giant Hanergy completed its acquisition of Californian CIGS startup MiaSolé today. Eventual roles for the parent, Europe-based Solibro and niche producer MiaSolé are beginning to take shape.

MiaSolé had long held significant promise as a manufacturer of high efficiency thin film products, however after attracting more US$550 million in finance, it began the search for an investor last year. That search came to an end in October, with privately owned Chinese clean energy company Hanergy agreeing to purchase the company for $30 million.

In light of the meager price Hanergy paid for MiaSolé, yesterday’s Mercom Capital report that VC funding in cleantech plunged by 50% in 2012 should come as no surprise.

With a sale price only a tiny fraction of the investment into the company in past years, it appears that Hanergy has snapped up a bargain in MiaSolé. However equally, in current trying market conditions, it will have to support considerable cash burn from both MiaSolé and Solibro for the foreseeable future. Reports are that Hanergy also propped up MiaSolé while the acquisition was still being negotiated. The New York Times reported today that the price Hanergy paid for MiaSolé was one-tenth what the U.S. company's board has asked for.

Flexing its muscles

When first news of the acquisition surfaced last year, Hanergy statements showed that it was interested in pursuing MiaSolé’s yet-to-be-released flexible products. The statement from its Chairman Li Hejun today confirmed this. "In the solar-energy sector, Hanergy is committed to developing thin film photovoltaic technology, providing turn-key solutions, and developing solar plants," said Li Hejun. "The future of solar energy is thin film technology. This acquisition allows us to add a highly efficient flexible product to our portfolio."

MiaSolé employs a novel deposition process, where CIGS semiconductor material is deposited onto stainless steel foil, that is then cut into cells, assembled into strings and sealed into a glass module. As such, the technology lends itself to flexible applications and when pv magazine visited MiaSolé in July last year, it was shown a prototype flexible module.

Flexible players Global Solar and Energy Conversion Devices (UniSolar) failed in their attempts to introduce a flex module into the market in recent times, however MiaSolé’s CIGS technology has achieved considerably higher efficiencies than the other two companies. MiaSolé has achieved a flexible efficiency of 15.5% and the company has set a goal of 17% within two years.

John Carrington, CEO of MiaSolé, said in today’s statement that Hanergy’s continued investment into the company would allow it to focus on R&D and ramping up its production. "MiaSolé has advanced solar technology by developing the highest efficiency and lowest-cost CIGS modules but we needed to align with a strategic partner in order to deploy our technology across a larger global scale," said Carrington.

MiaSolé and Solibro: Different roles

Hanergy already boasts considerable assets in CIGS technology and last year it acquired Solibro from the stricken Q.Cells. Germany’s former solar darling Q.Cells was itself acquired by Hanwha last year. Through the two CIGS companies, Hanergy hopes to be able to collaborate through patent sharing to deliver efficiency gains.

It is worth noting that Solibro employs a markedly different CIGS deposition to its new Californian stable mate. The German-based manufacturer employs a co-evaporation deposition process onto glass. Given the two companies are now Hanergy assets, it would appear clear the Chinese parent intends for Solibro to supply the glass module market and MiaSolé the flexible, in the coming years.

Non-load-bearing commercial rooftops present a considerable market opportunity for flexible modules, however as the failures of previous companies demonstrate that it may prove a difficult nut to crack. The cost of lamination has presented a cost obstacle in the past, but Global Solar did report to pv magazine, in late 2011, that new solutions were becoming available.

In today’s statement Hanergy indicated that Solibro would ramp to an annual production capacity of 100 MW, to supply the European market from its facility in Thalheim, Germany. It also said that it will retain MiaSolé hundred-plus staff in Silicon Valley, and may look to recruit more. It also has said that it will ramp MiaSolé’s manufacturing to its 150 MW nameplate capacity, although pv magazine understands that the Californian manufacturer had been operating close to capacity before beginning its nine-month search for investors.

Hanergy operates out of Beijing under the motto: "Clean Energy for a Better World." It boasts 6 GW of hydropower installations and 131 MW of wind. It has entered into construction agreements to install 10 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity. This announced pipeline is most significant and a string to the company’s bow, potentially delivering demand while difficult market conditions continue. Hanergy reports having a thin film manufacturing capacity of 3 GW in China, although what capacity that is currently operating at is not clear.

Hanergy’s acquisition was completed today after approval from Chinese and U.S. authorities.

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