Korea's Hanwha may buy fallen German PV star Q-Cells
South Korea’s Hanwha Group has confirmed it is considering the acquisition of bankrupt German solar group Q-Cells, in what would represent a ground-shaking deal for the global PV manufacturing industry.
A spokesman for Hanwha – which in 2010 became the largest shareholder in Chinese PV producer Solarfun (since renamed Hanwha SolarOne) – confirmed to Reuters that the company is mulling over the acquisition.
However, the spokesman would not confirm Korean media reports suggesting that the company was already engaged in due diligence for the acquisition via its subsidiary Hanwha Chemical Corporation.
Q-Cells, which has been desperately seeking a buyer to safeguard the jobs of its more than 2,000 employees, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Since the PV industry entered a consolidation phase more than a year ago, it has seen a number of Asian companies swoop to acquire ailing but well-known Western manufacturers – albeit at a more muted level than many expected.
In June alone, China’s Hanergy finalised a deal to buy Q-Cells’ thin-film subsidiary Solibro, and Chinese peer Aikosolar snapped up Dutch player Scheuten Solar.
Earlier deals in 2012 saw China’s Trony make a grab for US thin-film stalwart Uni-Solar, while United Arab Emirates-based Microsol is in the process of digesting erstwhile German star Solon.
But they would all be overshadowed by an acquisition of Q-Cells, which remains one of the best-known names in the PV industry despite its fall from grace – and was the world’s largest producer of crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV cells until a few years ago.
The fate of Q-Cells has been the subject of endless speculation since the company filed for bankruptcy in April.
Q-Cells went public in late 2005 and ended 2006 with a market capitalisation of more than €2.5bn ($3.1bn), making it the largest technology company listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
But the company has been battered by cheaper Asian rivals in recent years, despite opening a vast factory in Malaysia and diversifying downstream into module production and project development.
In 2009 Solarfun opened a 100MW plant dedicated to processing Q-Cells’ cells into modules for the company.
That arrangement has remained in place despite Hanwha’s takeover of Solarfun – and its subsequent push to build up its own brand of modules.
Nasdaq-listed Hanwha SolarOne was the sixth-largest producer of c-Si modules last year, and shipped just under 850MW – leaving it with a significant amount of underutilised capacity.
In addition to Q-Cells’ established brand, Hanwha may be most attracted to the company’s project-development arm.
Last year SolarOne laid out its plan to enter the project-development game – where margins are presently much higher than in manufacturing – via Hanwha’s large insurance and financing divisions.
Q-Cells is already one of the world’s largest PV developers.
By Karl-Erik Stromsta, London