SunPower bets on high efficiency and low concentrating PV

SunPower is to pursue a dual manufacturing strategy over the next five years as it sets about tripling its manufacturing capacity over the next five years. While this may not appear overly ambitious, with tier-one Chinese manufacturers adding GWs of cell and module capacity on a far more aggressive timescale, SunPower is diversifying its PV technology bets by also pursuing LCPV technology.

At its Analyst Day today in New York, SunPower announced 2015 revenue guidance of $2.4 billion to $2.6 billion, which is below analyst consensus. Gross margins of 21% to 26% are expected. Capex is expected to be between $300 million and $350 million, almost a doubling on 2014 capex.

One factor behind the jump is manufacturing capacity expansions. SunPower announced that it would break ground on a new 1 GW manufacturing facility in the Philippines for its C7 LCPV technology “in the next months.” This facility will supply the 3 GW pipeline of LCPV projects that it is set to develop in China over the next five to seven years, in joint venture. CEO Tom Werner said that the capital efficiency of the production of its LCPV product is its capital efficiency, which SunPower hopes to increase from five to ten times, as it continues to develop its concentrator technology.

SunPower is currently deploying its C7 LCPV technology in the U.S. and China. It is developing LCPV plants in Sichuan and Inner Mongoiia in China and has completed a 7 MW projects in Arizona and is currently installing a 20 MW project in Nevada. CEO Werner said that SunPower is learning through the process of rolling out its LCPV technology.

“It makes us ever more bullish on this product,” said Werner. The CEO pointed out that the stepping up of its LCPV technology is a return to the company’s roots, with LCPV being SunPower’s founding technology 30 years ago.

High efficiency cells

SunPower is also pursuing its high efficiency solar cell and module technology, and is currently in construction of its Fab4 in the Philippines and it today announced plans for its Fab 5, to be completed, “in the back half of 2017.” The location of the Fab 5 has not yet been announced but Werner said that the plan is for 25% efficient cells and 23% efficient modules to roll off production lines.

“We will break the record of what we thought was possible,” said CEO Werner.

The strategy behind the dual technologies is one of diversification. SunPower clearly believes that its LCPV technology is suited to certain environmental and market conditions, while its high efficiency modules others.

In the residential space, SunPower is adding power electronics to the module, as indicated by its acquisition this week of microinverter firm SolarBridge Technologies, and it also pursuing battery and energy management software. This is part of SunPower’s future differentiation strategy, where it intends to move from being a high efficiency module supplier, to a system provider for the residential consumer. Key to this is energy management, storage and software.

“You know us as the best solar technology, you will know us in the future as the best solar company with the best energy management capability, including energy management and storage,” said Werner. “We will invest heavily in this to maintain our competitive advantage.”