Hanergy Thin Film Power Group (Hanergy TF) has revealed plans to open 1,500 retail stores globally for its suite of thin-film solar products by 2017.

Hanergy TF said it had already opened 60 flagship stores and ‘experience centers’ in China that will be extended to 300 by the end of 2015. The first 60 retail stores are located in 21 provinces and cities, including Chengdu, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang and Xi'an, according to the company. 

The retail push, unprecedented in the solar industry to date is being supported by an online consumer orientated presence, showing over 20 products launched so far for consumer markets as well as conventional rooftop PV systems, all CIGS thin-film based. 

Hangery TF said that it would also create a platform on Alibaba to develop an online-to-offline (O2O) sales platform in China. 

Liu Min, deputy chairman of Hangery Thin Film Power Group and chairman of the board and CEO of Hanergy Global Solar Power and Applications Group, said: "Thin-film solar has ushered in a mobile energy era and is fundamentally subverting the energy utilisation mode of mankind. The implementation of a thin-film solar all-channel sales strategy by Hanergy Thin Film Power enables more residents to benefit from distributed power generation through online and offline O2O three-dimensional channel platforms and accelerates the spread of thin-film power products for civil use."

Hanergy had previously announced plans to build turnkey production lines in China with a nameplate capacity of 300MW employing MiaSolé-based flexible CIGS sputtering process technology and a second 300MW line using Solibro’s co-evaporating CIGS manufacturing process technology for conventional glass/glass modules for rooftop applications. 

Hanergy’s Solibro plant in Germany, its largest CIGS plant in operation had around 120MW of annual production capacity in 2014.

The company also has small-scale production plants in the US due to the acquisitions of MiaSolé and Global Solar Energy, another flexible CIGS producer. More recently, Hanergy acquired and has announced a 10MW pilot production facility to be built in China to produce Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) thin film cells using Alta Devices technology.

The retail push on its CIGS thin-film products is therefore Hanergy’s key route to support the ramp of its manufacturing plans, which realistically are expected to occur in 2016 onwards, based on tool deliveries for its Solibro and MiaSolé capacity expansions occurring late in 2015. 

However, the only competitor to Hanergy’s consumer orientated flexible CIGS thin-film products is US-based Ascent Solar Technologies, which has specifically targeted consumer, military and a range of other niche markets for the technology had recently reported 2014 revenue of only US$5.33 million on net losses of US$43.3 million.

The fact that Ascent Solar has guided revenue to be in the range of US$10 million to US$12 million in 2015, highlights the current global market niche consumer orientated flexible CIGS products have. 

Hanergy’s retail store marketing strategy also raises issues over the customer acquisition cost modelling, compared to Ascent Solar which uses distributors and specialist retail outlets. 

The strategy raises even more customer acquisition cost issues when considering residential rooftop customers as large retail installers, notably in the booming US market have developed and continue to implement strategies on reducing such ‘soft costs’ that include little or no retail presence. 

Hanergy has had some success so far in the UK where its Solibro rooftop product was showcased in some of IKEA’s stores. The strategy has been rolled out in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Hanergy did not disclose the upfront costs of establishing its first wave of retail outlets in China nor disclose the expected costs associated with the rollout of 1,500 stores globally.