Suntech Buys EI, Partners With MMA, Looks to Triple U.S. Sales

Chinese solar module maker Suntech announced today that it is moving into the U.S. market in a big way with the acquisition of commercial solar integrator startup EI Solutions and the formation of a joint venture with solar financier MMA Renewables. Suntech also says it will be expanding its dealer network across the U.S. Suntech hopes this plan will triple its sales in the U.S. by 2009.

Next year could be the beginning of the solar industry shakeout. Lux Research forecasts that solar module prices are expected to drop, putting a squeeze on margins. And the credit crunch is already hurting project financing. Suntech is one of the largest solar makers and Forbes reports that the company is estimated to generate $120 million in U.S. revenues in 2008. But Suntech’s move to add more installation and financing arms to diversify its business could help it weather the upcoming storm.

Founded in 2001, EI Solutions was acquired by Bill Gross’s Energy Innovations firm in 2004. EI Solutions works with large commercial institutions looking to go solar and provides design, installation and maintenance of solar systems. EI will now be renamed Suntech Energy Solutions and headed by Andrew Beebe, EI Solutions’ current president. EI Solutions is responsible for the much touted 1.6 megawatt solar installation at Google’s headquarters.

The new JV formed between Suntech and MMA Renewables, called Gemini Solar, will focus on utility-scale solar projects and the group plans to develop and finance photovoltaic plants 10 megawatts and larger. Suntech and MMA will co-own and operate the projects with additional financing from unnamed third-party partners.