Q-Cells highlights module business model as CIGS thin film ramps (update)

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The former dominant solar-cell manufacturer, Q-Cells, touted its financial recovery and rapidly changing business model as reasons to be cheerful about its financial position going forward. Q-Cells reported first-quarter revenue of €232 million, a decline of 8% compared to the previous quarter. EBIT adjusted loss was only €1 million.  Production volumes reached 174MW, up sequentially from 161MW in the fourth quarter of 2009. Q-Cells said that it would be ramping solar cell capacity faster than previously guided. CIGS thin-film module production at its Solibro unit more than doubled to 8.8MW in the quarter.

New CEO Nedim Cen reiterated the strategic changes to Q-Cells’ business model, with its greater emphasis on module production of both c-Si and CIGS thin-film products that would be distributed under a strong common brand. The company’s system business, which has so far been focused on large-scale systems, would also operate in medium-sized projects for commercial and industrial markets and be supported with the right specification of module for those projects.

Expansion phases three and four in Malaysia will be completed sooner than planned, adding 150MW of cell capacity to reach 600MW by year’s end. The third production line is expected to ramp up by the end of the second quarter, followed by the fourth line by the end of the third quarter.

Total cell capacity is targeted to reach 1.1GW by the end of the third quarter, the company said, with cell production expected to reach 800MW.

Its CIGS thin-film subsidiary, Solibro, has doubled production in the first quarter, up from 4.3MW to 8.8MW. The ongoing ramp is expected to result in capacity reaching 135MW by the end of 2010 and actual production of 80MW.

“With the new product portfolio, we offer suitable products for all market segments and enable global marketing through various channels. We thus will be able to reach lucrative sections of the value chain, which, in combination with the further improvement of our cost situation, will clearly strengthen the performance of Q-Cells”, said Cen. “The figures for the first-quarter 2010 show that we have chosen the right way with our restructuring and transformation. We will consistently pursue our policies in this direction.”

Q-Cells guided revenue for 2010 to reach between €1 billion and €1.2 billion for the full year.

(UPDATE by Tom Cheyney)

On the heels of the sale of its portion of Sovello and the insolvency of Sunfilm (another investment company), Q-Cells also announced that as part of its “ongoing focusing of the company’s investment portfolio,” it was pulling the plug on its Calyxo (CdTe) and VHF Technologies/Flexcell new technology companies, at least until new funding can be found.

Both units will be classified as “discontinued operations” as of Q1, and a total impairment of €36.8 million will be incurred, according to documents.

The company said that it continues to look for potential investors to keep the two units afloat, with the search for a financing partner for Calyxo (which has a remaining book value of €18 million) in the “due diligence phase.” As a result of shutting down the pair of subsidiaries, 273 employees have been laid off, according to Q-Cells’ full quarterly report.

The move leaves Solibro as the sole remaining operating company in Q-Cells’ new technology segment. Additional information about the CIGS subsidiary revealed in the quarterly report notes that it did not sell all of the 8.8MW of modules that it produced in the first quarter, with Solibro garnering only €5.9 million in revenues for the quarter.

The unit has reportedly debottlenecked its first production line, and expects to ramp that facility from 15MW to its full 45MW capacity during the first half of the year, concurrent with the ongoing ramp of its second line to its full 90MW capacity by the end of 2010.

In other news, Q-Cells said it will roll out its new, “commonly branded” c-Si and CIGS thin-film PV module portfolio at the upcoming Intersolar show in Munich next month. The products will be sold directly to wholesalers and large installers.

The company also continues to point to 2011 for the introduction of its improved c-Si cell technology.

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