SunPower Solar Cell sourcing deal with Q-Cells

Answering the what, why, and where questions.

SunPowerlogo_small Q-Celllscompany_logoQ-Cells Signs 83-MW Solar Cell Agreement with SunPower Corp.” caught my attention followed by “SunPower Signs 48-Megawatt Solar Power Supply Agreement with Toshiba” the next day, at least before the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Though I was curious, I may not have investigated any further until I was contacted by the public relations firm representing Q-Cells North America, part of Q-Cells SE (ETR:QCE). Invited to ask questions, I said:

I only have one question. Is the contract for multcrystalline or monocrystalline solar cells or both?

In response, Q-Cells said, “At this time, the cell type is not being made public.” Well, I knew my question was tricky, and there were ramifications to either or both types of silicon solar cells being included in the contract. Not getting a straight answer just spurred my efforts.

As the supplier, I knew Q-Cells might be bound by contractual terms, so I asked their customer, SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWRA, SPWRB). I am unable to predict how public companies will react to inquiries because of fair disclosure requirements. In this case, my patience was rewarded with a comprehensive reply from SunPower. Here are my Questions followed by SunPower’s Answers.

Q: Is any color available on this press release? Is the contract for multicrystalline or monocrystalline solar cells or both?

A: The Q-Cells announcement is related to multicrystalline solar cells used in our Serengeti™ product line. The Serengeti product is a standard efficiency PV module. It adds a standard efficiency module line to our current line of highest efficiency SunPower modules. Serengeti product line has always included the use of Q-Cells cells, and this announcement simply talks about a supply agreement.

Q: Why must the cells be outsourced?

A: We continue to rapidly expand our proprietary Maxeon™ cell supply. That said, we are getting such strong worldwide demand from our installation business, that we buy additional cells for our Serengeti PV modules to augments our SunPower module line. Buying components from other PV manufacturers is not new to us. We have historically purchased modules and other components on an as-needed basis to fulfill excess demand within our installation business.

Q: Are they slated for a particular region such as the US or Ontario?

A: The Serengeti product is distributed worldwide and was launched in mid-2010.

Here is the Serengeti Solar Panel webpage for reference.

I did not catch the SunPower investor presentation at Jefferies 11th Global Clean Technology Conference. However, the UPP Pipeline – 2011 Visibility slide shown below provided an improved granular snapshot of near term Utility and Power Plants (UPP) segment projects from SunPower’s 5 GW global pipeline.

SunPower022311Jefferiesslide11

On Tuesday, “SunPower Comments on Impact on Business Operations of Recent Events in Japan” addressed speculation regarding polysilicon supplier M.Setek Co., Ltd., an affiliate company of AU Optronics Corp. (NYSE:AUO).

Somehow, the partial Donald Rumsfeld quote, “But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.” seems appropriate to describe the global economic and supply chain ramifications of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis.

I hope the good folks at RTS Corporation and their families, friends, and colleagues have safely navigated events in Japan thus far and continue to do so.

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