CEO interview: Meyer Burger's Peter Pauli

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In the last few weeks Meyer Burger has released a number of significant pieces of news: That you have raised CHF100 million ($US105 million) through issuing bonds, a supply deal for PERC technology with an Asian customer, A SmartWire order with U.S. manufacturer SolarTech and the production of a 60-cell 327W heterojunction module. Starting with the heterojunction module, what is the significance of this?

This shows what can be achieved with our production equipment and technology in an industrial manufacturing environment, not just on the lab level. It is important to know that it is not a just a solar cell alone that achieved this record performance: it is the combination between the thin wafers cut with diamond wire technology, high performance HJT cell technology, connected with SWCT connection technology and the bifacial back contact insulation system.

That includes your SmartWire technology doesn’t it?

Yes SmartWire is a part of it. It is a combination of technologies.

As the most recent SolarTech supply deal demonstrates, there seems to be some interest in the market about SmartWire. What is the reaction that you’re finding to the approach?

It is a new technology with real advantages and improvements for manufacturers and for end users. It is a disruptive technology. It provides a number of significant opportunities in the cell connection process and when combined with heterojunction high performance cell technology within a bifacial module, it really changes the application potential which is the key.

So it’s not a matter of simply providing what is already being built today, a typical 60 or 70 cell module with frames, it enables you to customize a module to the area where you plan to use it. Whether it is BIPV, free field, or a flat roof application, each of these different applications in different areas requires different module or cell designs which can be achieved with Meyer Burger’s solutions.

I have heard that these types of module products could be a model for European manufacturing, providing specific solutions for what could be considered niche applications?

That’s the way we pursue this market. We are completely convinced that new markets or established markets like Germany, get a new chance with this technology and can reach places in these markets where certain advantages come into play by being technology driven. If you look at the market, the Chinese producers can occupy the lower end of the technology pyramid, and the customer then has the choice of which technology he wants or requires.

A comparison to the auto industry is a good one. If a manufacturer wants to sell a high end German engineered car or a lower price car, he can select what market he is aiming at. Over the last few years in PV, customers didn’t have a real choice, they could only choose a 60-cell module, framed, and that was it.

And those modules certainly weren’t over 320W.

Definitely not, more like 250W.

The recent supply deal to Asia is also interesting. How much demand is there for PERC solutions, particularly from the Chinese manufacturers?

We have two markets today: We have new markets that we approach with new technologies like heterojunction. Then there are existing markets. There is around 40 to 50 GW installed manufacturing base around the globe, but mainly in China. As I mentioned before, this is volume production, mainly using the same technology. Now the manufacturers must differentiate themselves and also improve their lines and they can only do so with upgrades. They want to utilize their existing equipment, so they are looking for upgrades. So the product that we supplied to our customer in Asia is an upgrade driven product that can be used to upgrade the rest of the 40 or 50 GW installed base.

And what is the delivery schedule for that?

One part of the equipment will already be delivered this year, but the contract will follow through until the end of 2015.

Meyer Burger has also recently issued CHF100 million ($US105 million) in bonds to raise funds, what is the significance of fundraising now?

This fundraising is based on the growing market. As you know after a long period of downturn, we had to secure our finances, ensure that our balance sheet is stable and that we are sufficiently liquid so we can maintain our position as an independent company. Now the market is catching up and requires working capital, especially if we want to change and drive technology. You need a certain base of capital so that you are able to react and be a part of the market growth.

Restructuring is also a part of that. You appear to still be restructuring your German and U.S. workforce. Is that still an ongoing process?

Sure that is an ongoing process. What we have done over the last few years is to develop a range of innovative products. We invested in technology which gives us new chances and opportunities and sometimes there is also consolidation. This is because we did things better and more efficiently so we are able to focus on our core competences and refine the variety of existing products.

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