Bosch solar exit official; 3,000 jobs at stake

Ending a shaky week for solar – Suntech finally entered into insolvency on Monday after mounting rumors – Robert Bosch GmbH has today confirmed it will cease its solar activities, following months of speculation. The engineering and electronics company has been investing in the industry since 2008.

In addition to ceasing production of ingots, wafers and cells, Bosch has said it will "quickly" sell off its individual business units, and end all development and marketing activities. This will include selling its 150 MW photovoltaic module plant in Vénissieux, France (which opened just last year) and scrapping its Malaysian plans for a manufacturing facility.

Aleo solar AG, of which Bosch owns a 90.7%, will also be heavily affected, as Bosch seeks to sell its shares. According to aleo, Bosch has "assured aleo solar AG of financing until the end of March 2014."

Signaling that aleo has long known of Bosch’s pull out, it said, "Irrespective of the search for a buyer, aleo solar AG has already taken action: We have closed our factory in Spain, commenced the liquidation of our joint venture in China and have disposed of our shares in Bosch CISTech. We are now examining further activities for improving our earnings."

It is not clear how, or if voltwerk electronics GmbH, Conergy’s ex-photovoltaic inverter subsidiary, which was acquired by Bosch last April, will be affected.

Justifying its decision, Bosch said that it has been unsuccessful in in achieving competitiveness in the solar industry, despite having "comprehensively examined every aspect of its solar business."

"We have considered the latest technological advances, cost-reduction potential, and strategic alignment. And there have also been talks with potential partners. However, none of these possibilities resulted in a solution for the Solar Energy division that would be economically viable over the long term," stated Volkmar Denner, chairman of the Bosch management board.

Stefan Hartung, chairman of the Bosch Solar Energy AG supervisory board and member of the Robert Bosch GmbH management board responsible for the Energy and Building Technology business sector, added, "Despite extensive measures to reduce manufacturing cost over the past year, we were unable to offset the drop in prices, which was as much as 40 percent."

Despite the cutbacks, Bosch has said it will keep on Bosch Solar CISTech GmbH, located in Germany’s Brandenburg. "Its future alignment will be decided at a later date," said Bosch in a statement released. Aleo solar sold its equity stake in CISTech to Bosch in December.

Overall, Bosch’s solar division employs 3,000 people, of which 850 are based at aleo and 150 at CISTech. It is not yet clear how many jobs will be lost.

In the figures

In January, Bosch reported that while sales rose across all its divisions by 1.6% in 2012 to total revenues of €52.3 billion (US$69.7bn), the company forced to take an impairment of as much as €1 billion from its solar business.

Meanwhile, last August, the company announced the closure of its thin film production in Erfurt. However, it also took over Ersol and Johanna Solar, as well as a part of Aleo Solar; and acquired Voltwerk, the inverter partner of Conergy.

Translated by Becky Beetz.