Q CELLS back in the game

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The list of companies that went bankrupt, restructured, consolidated or exited the PV industry up and down the value chain over the last two years is a long one.

One of the major bankruptcies was Q-Cells. The manufacturer had made all sorts of attempts at business restructuring, but pesky bondholders brought proceedings to an end and a Korean conglomerate ultimately took over the company.

Even when companies undertake a successful restructuring the challenge afterwards is not that they regain bankability but often the more subtle but no less critical restoration of credibility, not least if the company is a PV manufacturer.

Fast forward over a couple of years and Hanwha Q CELLS is on much stronger financial foundations and is riding the boom in the industry once again.

In mid-May this year, the company issued a press release claiming that it had reached a positive operating result in the first quarter of 2014 and was now “the largest European PV provider”.

It should be immediately pointed out that the company has not been public since being sold through receivers so claims of financial performance are not transparent.

However, the fact that the company also noted claimed shipments of 247MW and a module production volume of 244MW in the first quarter of 2014 is welcome; even though unverifiable, the figures are the first the company has publically provided since its takeover, a sure sign that things must being going well.

Indeed the shipment figures (believed to include module tolling by sister company Hanwha SolarOne in China), suggest Q CELLS’ production utilisation rates are high and suggest facilities in Malaysia and Germany are probably close to running at full capacity.

Though the 244MW production figure for Q1 suggest the company is at its 1GW annual run rate, additional capacity is being added in Malaysia with equipment ordered (de-bottlenecking mainly), nameplate capacity is expected to reach 1.3GW mid this year.

It comes as no surprise that Hanwha Q CELLS CEO, Charles Kim, said that the company had “successfully managed the turnaround and today is the largest European Photovoltaics provider”.

I would have to agree with the turnaround aspect but will leave the PR spin based on meaningless metrics for others to debate. A more meaningful metric was the fact the company said it had increased its workforce to 1,350, up from 1,225 previously.

Returning to full capacity not only provides the company with greater revenue but it was quite clear at Intersolar Europe that booming business has given the company renewed optimism and confidence.

This was typified by Kim when speaking with PV Tech during Intersolar Europe, the first time the executive has been made available to press since taking charge of the company in October 2012.

Kim reiterated that shipment growth was confirmation of the turnaround in the company’s fortunes and said the company had the capacity to expand to meet future demand.

The CEO noted that its focus on high-efficiency modules and rooftop markets was paying off, as confirmed by Japanese PV magazine, Solvisto, which recently said that the company was the top foreign PV provider in Japan.

“Our high-efficiency Quantum cell technology enables customers to maximise self-consumption and maximise returns, especially in key markets such as Japan,” noted Kim.

Kim pointed to key rooftop markets as the UK, Germany and across Europe as well, and emphasised that rooftops markets would continue to be strong markets for the company.

However, when asked about the possible new business opportunities open to the company pending the outcome of the latest round of anti-subsidy and anti-dumping investigations into Chinese producers by the US, Kim was more cautious in his remarks.

“I guess we will be waiting and seeing,” responded Kim, recognising that the US has been a good market for the company in the past, notably in downstream PV project business.

Kim wouldn’t be drawn on the idea of either expanding capacity in Malaysia or building a new plant to meet potential increased US market demand, especially as the company under different management had planned to build a plant in Mexico to do just that.

That said, Kim was confident that the company had the ability to expand to meet demand, especially in the rooftop space.

“Our high-efficiency Quantum cell technology enables customers to maximise self-consumption and maximise returns, especially in key markets such as Japan,” noted Kim. Image: Hanwha QCELLS
Busy trade at Q CELLS booth at the recent Intersolar Europe event. Image PV Tech
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