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South Korean Solar Duo Takes on the US Market
Author: Source:SolarPVInvestor Editor: Publish at Beijing Time: 2012-08-14 13:13:00

The solar market has long been a field of competition among the business entities, but now more than ever the industry has become a battlefield accustomedto political scuffle. The first casualties of the so-called trade war are the Chinese small and medium businesses, which used to make wafers and cells for the American market. Now, with the scaled-down European markets and the EU investigation of alleged dumping, even the tier-one companies like Trina Solar Limited (NYSE: TSL)) or Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE: YGE)are not only hurt by the US costs, but are also rushed to find new “free” emerging markets to replace exposure in Germany and Italy. 

While the Chinese are regrouping or retreating in the sound of cheers from CASM, as predicted,other Asian companies are movingin to fill the void. Two South Korean companies, which are connected through family ties, are making a big move to the US. Nexolon, the largest South Korean solar wafer manufacturer (1.7GW), teamed up with OCI Solar, a division of OCI Chemical Corporation,to build solar plants in North America, a last avenue to find profit in the solar industry today. Nexolon America LLC, a 100% subsidiary of Nexolon in the USA, will take part in 400MW San Antonio Solar Power Project as a business partner of OCI Solar. The company has signed a 495MW solar module agreement with OCI Solar, and will create jobs in the San Antonio-area by constructing a 200MW module plant, and employing around 800 people. Plants will be built for CPS Energy. Currently, OCI Solar is developing 150MW of projects across North America; therefore, the $1.2B project in Texas is a big stepup for the company.

“OCI Solar Power is breaking new ground for sustainable energy in the U.S.,” said Tony Dorazio, president of OCI Solar Power. “This project will not only serve as a public-private partnership model for communities around the country but also a blueprint for building a new energy development hub.  As part of our commitment to this vision and to the San Antonio community, we will also drive investments in education, research and development and the new innovations necessary to sustainably impact the economy and landscape for years to come.”

Both companies have recently released their quarterly results. Nexolon delivered a loss in Q2, but the company is continuing on the path of improvements to return into the black in Q1, 2013. The multi wafer processing costs have gone down to $0.16 per watt, and the company’s n-type and full square mono wafers (FSQM) in Q2 were 17% of the shipments, in addition to FSQM wafers improving margins due to lower processing and material costs. 

While cash flow is improving, Nexolonhas reduced its debt by 28B KRW. However, in order to grow, Nexolon needs money. The company is going to the market to sell equity to raise 78B KRW ($70M). Despite Nexolon being in possession of the most advanced wafer technology on the market, the wafer business is tough due to overcapacity and inventory glut. Like some of the most advanced Chinese solar wafer companies, including ReneSolaLtd. (ADR)(NYSE: SOL),have known for some time now, module integration adds opportunity for higher margins and in combination with strong developers, offers if not profit, then at least revenue stability to keep the business around long enough to see better times, while squeezing more efficiency and reduce processing costs.

Another strong positive for Nexolon is the access to world-class polysilicon from OCI Chem. While the Chinese government had started investigating South Korean poly imports along with US companies,as an act of retaliation to the US government decision, OCI Chem has a lot of long-term contracts with the majority of tier-one Chinese companies and that condition may be a factor in the inquiry looking for those who dump below cost.Yet it is all equally negative for OCI, as poly overcapacity continues and failing customers refuse to take deliveries.The company held a deposit of $37B from one of those in Q2.Under this shift of demand and market saturation, OCI has changed its growth plans by suspending a planned 44,000MT expansion. Instead,by the end of 2013 the company will add 10,000MT of poly to its current 42,000MT. OCI claims to have the lowest cash cost in the world, and the 10,000MT debottlenecking project will offer an additional $2 per kg reduction for the entire future 52,000MT production capacity.  

Another company associated with South Korea, Hanwha SolarOne (HSOL),launched Hanwha SolarEnergy America (HSEA) on August 9th.The company is expanding its North American capabilities downstream with project financing and EPC, to serve customers in the utility and commercial sectors.

"With a thousand megawatts of projects in the pipeline, the newly branded Hanwha SolarEnergy America represents a significant force in project development," said Matthew McCullough, chief executive officer of Hanwha SolarEnergy America. "The full capabilities of Hanwha Solar, from manufacturing to project development to finance, will allow us to become a leading provider of solar energy services in North America."

It remains to be seen how the Hanwha group will overcome the US levies, since SolarOne operates its cell manufacturing plants in Mainland China, a singular cause to draw duty. Hanwha Group has been rumored to be looking into assets of Q-Cells, a German cell manufacturer, which claimed insolvency this year. With Q-Cells’ 950MW cell capacity overalland 700MW manufactured in Malaysia, this could be an instant recipe for success in their quest for market share in the American market. 
Like OCI, Hanwha Chem has shown polysilicon aspirations with the forthcoming construction ofa 10,000MT poly plant exclusively dedicated to its own business, and moreover,with expectations of becoming a global solar powerhouse by 2020, with 4GW of capacity and $6B in investments.

In addition to the US market, Hanwha had delivered projects in China and has a presence in Europe. 

 The company Hanwha SolarEnergy Europe inked deals in Portugal for 17MW, and with SolarOne made a 47MW module sale in Italy recently. The parent-Hanwha Group and its subsidiaries established a joint venture deal with SAG Solarstrom for 40MW of rooftop installations in Italy.

An overwhelming number of members of the industry had expressed the opinion that technology, efficiency, and low cost is the best method to ensure future of solar in the US – not trade barriers and exclusions.  The presence of South Korean companies in the US market is the realityachievedunder thispremise.

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