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China’s Suntech Power Holdings (s STP) announced a big milestone today, hitting 1 gigawatt (GW) of photovoltaic cell and module production capacity in Wuxi, nearly doubling the firm’s 2007 output of 540 megawatts.
Today’s news comes after a tough year for solar stocks, with shares of Suntech, Yingli Green Energy (s YGE), JA Solar (s JASO) and Evergreen Solar (s ESLR) all losing more than 80 percent of their value in 2008. But Suntech’s big production capacity could help it ride out the economic storm; the larger output could help push prices down for the company’s solar cells and modules, which could attract more buyers. Suntech CEO Zhengrong Shi said last month that an expected oversupply of polysilicon this year could cut the company’s prices event further — 20-30 percent compared with the third quarter of 2008.
The company has plans to grow even bigger. Suntech broke ground in September on a new 300-MW PV cell production facility in Yangzhou that’s expected to help push Suntech’s capacity to 1.4 GW by the end of this year and 2 GW by the end of 2010.
The new plant in Yangzhou will be a two-hour drive from headquarters in Wuxi, but it will be close to Suntech’s silicon supply partner, Shunda Holdings. Last May, Suntech acquired a minority stake in Shunda from private equity firm Actis and the Waichun Investment Fund for $98.9 million, announcing a 7-GW, 13-year silicon supply agreement with Shunda at the time.
Suntech also officially opened its new solar-powered headquarters building in Wuxi today. It has a 1 MW, grid-connected, building-integrated solar facade, which the company said is the largest in the world. The 193,750-square-foot building uses more than 2,552 of Suntech’s Light Thru semi-transparent solar panels, and features energy-efficient building materials, geothermal temperature control, smart lighting and a water recycling system.