SunPower Rival Silevo Plans 200MW Solar-Module Factory in U.S.

Silevo Inc., a U.S.-based solar manufacturer, plans to grab market share from SunPower Corp. by expanding production capacity sevenfold.

Silevo, which has raised $72 million in two financing rounds, is in talks with private-equity investors and financial institutions to close financing on a 200-megawatt cell and module plant in the U.S., said Christopher Beitel, executive vice president of global business development and planning. It currently produces cells at a 32-megawatt factory in China.

Solar manufacturers are looking to expand outside China after the U.S. and the European Commission imposed anti-dumping penalties on products from the country. The U.S. solar market, also boasting lower energy costs, is expected to grow 61 percent this year as homes and businesses add panels, according to the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association.

Silevo, based in Fremont, California, will build its plant in one of four U.S. states, Beitel said yesterday in an interview at a solar conference in Munich. “The states that we are engaged with are bringing quite a bit to the table in terms of grants, incentives, access to low-interest debt,” he said.

Silevo currently hires other companies to package the cells from its Hangzhou plant into modules. By making a larger portion of its modules in-house in the U.S., it will be able to control expenses by cutting shipping costs and ensure greater protection of its intellectual property, according to the producer.

“Water and the electricity in China are much more expensive than in the U.S., and the labor cost is very close,” Chief Executive Officer Zheng Xu said in Munich. “In terms of production cost, it’s very comparable to North America.” Silevo may build a third factory in Europe or the Middle East, he said.

The company plans to use its production facilities as hubs, with the Chinese plant serving the Asia-Pacific region and the U.S. site serving North and South America. It intends to announce details of its U.S. factory this year and start producing in mid-2014, Beitel said.

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