SunPower forecasts 2011 revenues pushing closer to $3B, cell production likely to top 900MW

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SunPower sees substantial growth in store in fiscal year 2011, with annual revenues expected to range between $2.65 billion and $2.85 billion as well as PV cell production of 900-945MW at its three fabrication facilities. The company’s already issued its 2010 guidance, which forecasts revenues of $2.15 billion-$2.25 billion and cell production of 570-580MW. The company also said it has signed a deal to sell the Solare Roma PV power plant in Italy.

The announcements came during the company’s 2010 Analyst Day held Nov. 18 in New York.  

The company sees 2011 starting in the first quarter in the $450 million-$500 million range, well below the $870 million to $970 million guided for Q4 2010. But revenues will increase sequentially for the rest of the year, from $550 million-$600 million in Q2, $650 million-$700 million in Q3, and $1 billion- $1.05 billion in the final quarter, according to SunPower.

Correspondingly, panel megawatts shipped with recognized revenue will grow from quarter to quarter over the course of next year, from 135-155MW (Q1) to 175-200MW (Q2) to 190-220MW (Q3) to 285-325MW in Q4 2011—ending up somewhere between 785MW and 900MW for the year.

The amount of total shippable panels, counting those produced internally as well as modules assembled by Flextronics and other third parties, will range from 885MW to 995MW.  

SunPower offered details on the ramp of its new Fab 3 production facility in Malaysia. The first two 50MW lines in the fab are operational, with tool installations on the third line staying on schedule. Yield levels are running ahead of plan, and improved cell processing has led to $30 million in cost savings, the company said. Another 280-320MW of cellmaking capacity will come online next year as a direct result of the Fab 3 ramp.

A roadmap to reduce panel costs by 23 cents in 2011 ($1.71/W to $1.48/W) incorporates cuts across SunPower’s manufacturing value chain. Four cents will be cut from polysilicon costs, three cents from ingot costs, three cents from wafering costs, seven cents from cell costs, and four cents from the panel costs. Improving economies of scale, reduced wafer thickness, better yields and overall equipment effectiveness, lean manufacturing, and cuts in materials/consumables costs are among the drivers.

During the question-and-answer session at the end of the analysts’ meeting, CEO Tom Werner (pictured) said that the company is looking at 2012 as the potential time-frame for starting up the fourth fabrication site. The projected facility will not be as large as Fab 3, with smaller capacity increments that can be added on faster, he explained. No site has been selected, and SunPower could take on a partner, including current joint-venture manufacturing collaborator AUO, or decide to go it alone.

He also alluded to the possibility of interim capacity adds at the company’s cellmaking factories in the Philippines. Process learning gained during the ramp of Fab 3 will be “ported back” to the older facilities, including OEE software that optimizes the whole plant, not just individual lines, according to the CEO.

Werner provided more details on the company’s low-concentration PV plans, which he said “delivered the lowest cost of energy and is the most bankable, reliable form of CPV.” The company plans to deploy “5-10MW” to as-yet unnamed beta sites of selected customers as part of its rollout of the new single-axis technology next year.

The addition of higher-energy-per-unit CPV capability to the product suite will also reduce the amount of cell capacity needed in the future, explained Howard Wenger, president of the utility and power plants unit.

The company updated its target schedule for the 250MW (AC) California Valley Solar Ranch east of San Luis Obispo. Planning commission hearings will take place in Q1 2011, with board of supervisors meetings and permitting expected in Q2. If all goes smoothly, construction will start in Q3/Q4, and the first phase completed—and initial 25MW online—by Q4 or Q1 2011. The entire project would be finished by Q4 2013.    

As for the sale of the Solare Roma power plant, SunPower said that it has signed a definitive purchase deal with Allianz Renewable Energy Partners IV, in which the solar company will sell 100% of the equity in its Orsa Maggiore PV subsidiary, owner of the 13MW AC/15MW (DC)  PV installation in Anguillara, Italy. The transaction should be completed by the end of 2010.

The plant, which SunPower also designed, is in the final phases of construction; the company will provide O&M services to Allianz as part of the agreement.

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