Evergreen Solar claims cost competitive with Chinese competitors at U.S. plant

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String Ribbon solar module producer, Evergreen Solar expects its nameplate capacity to reach 170MW in 2010, based primarily on its Wuhan, China facility coming online as expected, this summer. The 100MW plant, operated by Jiawei Solarchina is expected to ramp to 20 to 25MW of capacity per quarter in early 2011 and produce a wafer for about US$0.45 per watt and a panel for around US$1.25 per watt. However, with a high cash burn rate for the loss making manufacturer, the 70%-plus capacity increase will require the company to raise more money, according to Mike El-Hillow, Evergreen Solar’s COO and CFO in a conference call to discuss fourth quarter financial results.

The fourth quarter proved good for the company as demand was robust, enabling the company to ship 31.9MW, almost all of its 35MW capacity at its Deven’s facility. However, the company shipped 31.3 MW from its Devens facility in the third quarter, highlighting that the company is now capacity constrained until the Wuhan plant become operational.

The high utilization rates and lower material costs, coupled to further manufacturing operational improvements saw important improvements to lower manufacturing costs.

In the fourth quarter Evergreen Solar said it had produced panels at US$2.05 per watt, down from US$2.24 per watt in the third quarter and US$2.70 per watt for the second quarter. The implementation of its quad-furnace technology is still playing-out but has already achieved a wafer cost reduction to US$0.69 per watt, down from US$0.75 per watt in the third quarter of 2009. Silicon cost was put at approximately US$90 per kilogram.

“We believe that Devens is now producing wafers that are cost competitive with many of the larger Chinese manufacturers today,” noted Richard M. Feldt, Chairman, CEO and President of Evergreen Solar, in the conference call. “We also believe that we have not yet realized the full benefits of our quad technology which is still in the early stage of its lifecycle, nor have we obtained the benefits that larger scale manufacturing will bring.”

As the company scales its Wuhan facility to reach the 100MW nameplate capacity, Feldt noted that the company should expect Evergreen branded solar panels to cost no more than US$1.00 per watt by the end of 2012, including an all in wafer cost of about US$0.30 per watt. Module conversions efficiencies were said to be at 15%.

Revenues for the fourth quarter were US$74.5 million, compared to US$77.7 million (inclusive of $2.2 million of fees from Sovello) for the third quarter of 2009. However, due to the financial troubles at Sovello, no licensing fees were received in the quarter and Evergreen has now virtually written-off its investment value in the company. Total exposure in Sovello was now said to be in the range of US$20 million.

The major cash requirement for Evergreen Solar in 2010 is ramp its Wuhan plant, which the company said would require approximately US$50 million to complete. Nearly another US$50 million of capital requirements is needed for operations and cash flow.

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