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Should Sunpower Close Its Solar Cell And Panel Manufacturing Business Given The Chinese Price Pressure

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Sunpower to Reduce Total Manufacturing Capacity to 1-1.5 GW

Sunpower is one of the largest solar cell and module manufacturers in the world and one of the few remaining Western solar manufacturers. This company has survived a couple of major industry downturns, despite its costs being higher than the a typical solar panel made by a white label Chinese company. The company’s USP has been its very high efficiency solar cells which are made through a proprietary N-type monocyrstalline silicon process. This allows the solar panels made by Sunpower to be used in segments where there is a higher premium being paid for high efficiency products.

Along with Panasonic, its N-type technology has survived the constant onslaught of the Chinese solar panels relentless price reduction over the years. Sunpower had also been helped by the sale of a large part of its equity to French oil and gas major Total a few years ago. Along with its big project development business and Total backing, Sunpower had recovered its mojo and become a top player again.

Read Indian Solar Panel Manufacturers plan to expand capacity even as prices crater

Sunpower Solar Panels

However, the recent slide in solar panel prices to below costs has again made Sunpower rethink its plans. The company along with First Solar do not have the comfort of a Chinese government and bank backing. They have to play in a pure capitalistic economy and the anti-dumping duties imposed on Chinese imports by the USA government is not of much help. It is a global market and Sunpower cannot compete with the Chinese solar panel prices in a majority of places. Though the company has started using Chinese made solar cells and panels for some of its products, it still is not being able to compete effectively against the Chinese scale and prices.

Sunpower has announced that it would close its 1000 MW solar panel making fab in Philippines some months back. Last week it again announced a major retrenchment of its workforce as it will close a big part of its solar cell facility in Philippines. It will close one of its older fabs in that country which will lead to a curtailment of almost 1/3rd of its total cell capacity. This 700 MW capacity reduction will lead Sunpower to have almost 1100 MW of cell capacity left with most of it in Malaysia.

Also read SouthEast Asia becomes new hub of Solar Manufacturing due to Western duties – but how long will it persist?

The company will become a very small panel manufacturer post this restructuring. It will have 1-1.5 GW of cell and panel capacity as compared to the 4-5 GW of solar panel and cell capacity of major Chinese solar players such as Trina Solar and Jinko Solar. Sunpower will get the majority of its revenues from system development segment. The company plans to reduce its operating expenses to $300 million and also cut its capex by 50% as well. The company will keep investing in its Fab 4 facility which will make higher efficiency Maxeon 4 cells. Like First Solar, Sunpower will close facilities which are not that competitive and invest in the future. It remains to be seen how long Sunpower can support its bleeding solar panel manufacturing operations. It may be time for Total to call it a day on manufacturing and focus its efforts on system development only.


Sneha Shah

I am Sneha, the Editor-in-chief for the Blog. We would be glad to receive suggestions, inputs & comments on GWI from you guys to keep it going! You can contact me for consultancy/trade inquires by writing an email to

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