„THIS STRENGTHENS OUR WHOLE COMPANY “26-11-13
Interview with Dr.-Ing. E.h. Frank Asbeck, Chairman and CEO of SolarWorld AG, concerning the purchase of the solar cell and module manufacturing of Bosch Solar Energy in Arnstadt
Mr. Asbeck, why is SolarWorld purchasing Bosch Solar Energy’s cell and module manufacturing plant in Arnstadt in the German federal state Thuringia?
The solar manufacturing plant in Arnstadt suits us well: made in Germany, high quality standards, high technology, own research and highly motivated employees. The two largest solar manufacturers in Europe are getting together to form a capable team.
Is this the “Gigawatt factory” that has always been called for by German politicians, or even Peter Altmaier’s “Solar Airbus project”?
Indeed, SolarWorld and Bosch Solar Energy together have over one gigawatt of production capacity across all value creation stages, solar wafers, cells and modules. This is the creation of the largest crystalline solar manufacturer outside China.
Does it even make any sense to manufacture solar modules in Germany or the United States when you can simply buy everything in China?
The quality standards in Germany and the United States are unique. That’s something you can’t buy in China. We only manufacture in locations that guarantee high quality. And we believe in solar energy systems Made in Germany and Made in the USA. I cannot understand the disheartenment on display in many western industrialized countries. Solar energy systems as we know them today were invented in Germany and the United States. A solar power plant that is intended to reliably provide clean electricity for 30 years regardless of the weather conditions isn’t something you produce in China but in the United States or Europe.
SolarWorld had to agree on a debt and capital cut in recent months. How do you explain to your shareholders and creditors that SolarWorld is now buying a factory with nearly 800 employees?
With the purchase of the cell and module manufacturing plant in Arnstadt, we once again offer our shareholders the prospect of a growing company and that SolarWorld will once again play a leading role in the global solar industry. Production in Arnstadt excellently complements our manufacturing capacities in Freiberg and Hillsboro. Technologically, Bosch is a great addition.
Will the purchase negatively affect your reorganization?
No, the agreement with Bosch is such that a multi-year operation of the cell and module manufacturing facilities in Arnstadt can be secured without jeopardizing our financial reorganization. On the contrary, together we can restore profitability even quicker.
Does the purchase have any consequences for your future production? Are you closing down production facilities elsewhere?
No, the cell and module manufacture of Bosch suit our production structure well. This strengthens our entire company. We reach about the same capacity of over 1 GW on all value creation stages. We are also expanding our portfolio. At SolarWorld in Freiberg in Saxony, we produce multi-crystalline wafers and cells. At SolarWorld in Hillsboro in the United States, we focus on mono cells with rear side passivation. In Arnstadt, Bosch Solar has developed a similar process for the production of high-efficiency mono cells. All three complement each other perfectly.
What will become of the previous Bosch customers?
In recent months, many customers of Bosch Solar have wondered what would become of the company. How long can they continue producing? Now there is clarity. We will continue the production of cells and modules in Arnstadt and continue to be available to customers for further orders.
Thuringian politics has made a strong case for the survival of the location in Arnstadt. Have you already contacted the state government in Thuringia?
It is impressive how Thuringia is making the case for the preservation of jobs and expertise in their own country. We are in touch with the ministry of economics, whose efforts regarding the location have – in my opinion – played a big role in ensuring that a comprehensive solution could be found for Arnstadt.
How do you evaluate the fact that Bosch has largely abandoned the solar energy industry?
First of all, Bosch was the first German conglomerate ever to take the risk upon itself to enter the solar industry, which was then still strongly influenced by newcomers and medium-sized companies. I respect that entrepreneurial courage just as much as I respect the behaviour of Bosch after the decision to sell the solar division. Bosch has at all times proven its responsibility towards employees and made a point of keeping production and patents in Germany. Now the solar division goes to a company that has focused on photovoltaic technology from the very outset and that seeks a leadership position in the international solar industry. In my view, this is consistent.
In Berlin, there are coalition talks underway regarding the energy transition. What is the future of the solar energy industry in Germany from your point of view?
Solar power from your own roof is already cheaper than nuclear power from the socket. The energy transition is a success story. In Berlin, there is often the impression at the moment that the energy transition is a burden. This is careless. Sure you have to cut down the costs. But no technology has reduced costs in recent years as much as solar technology. I expect from the new government that it does not slow down but help design instead. The EEG is the most efficient law for the support of renewable energies in Europe. And it is undermining itself by steadily lowering the tariffs for electricity from renewable energy sources. All proposals to replace EEG remuneration with tendering models or mandatory direct marketing would only cause new costs. In the current drafts of the coalition treaty, insofar as they have been made public, this has also been taken into account for photovoltaics. After all, photovoltaics had to survive three rounds of cuts already in recent years. However, this way solar energy technology will become increasingly independent of government funding in Germany. Sustainable expansion will be about 3 to 4 gigawatts per year. People want to generate their own electricity on their roofs to become more independent. Even tenants can benefit from solar electricity and reduce their additional utility costs.
You announced the deal together with Bosch today. When is Bosch Solar Energy to become SolarWorld in Arnstadt?
We expect the so-called closing at the end of February 2014. Until then, there are numerous processes pending up to an antitrust approval. We have quite a bit of experience with acquisitions. In 2001, we acquired the solar location Freiberg from Bayer and in 2006 the solar division of the oil company Shell with the production location in California. Therefore, we do know how challenging the integration of different corporate cultures in one company can be. I look forward to the reinforcement of our company by the employees of Bosch Solar and I am sure that we will make a good team.