Sunday, August 9, 2009

US Solar Cell Manufacturer Gearing up for IPO?

Suniva’s sunny on 2010. And the solar cell maker is gearing up to soak in the sunshine. Late last month, Suniva closed on a $75 million investment, led by private equity firm Warburg Pincus. The financing will help the Georgia Tech startup expand its Norcross plant — adding a second production line and boosting capacity from 32 Megawatts to 100 Megawatts.

“The foot's on the accelerator,” CEO John Baumstark said. “We're continuing to ramp up and do what we said we would do a year ago.” Suniva has developed technology to make solar cells that can transform more of the sun’s energy into the juice that powers today’s plugged-in world.

The company’s cells are about 15 percent more energy efficient than the competition for about the same price, Baumstark said. Suniva has so far snagged nearly $1 billion in orders from Indian and European solar module makers. While demand for the company's sales is driven by Asia and Europe, Baumstark expects the United States to emerge as strong solar market
The trim Baumstark, who often waves one of his solar cells at presentations, is betting federal programs will incent consumers and businesses to install solar modules and spur domestic demand.

“Next year can be a really big year for the U.S.,” Baumstark said. “People have always talked about the U.S. being the largest solar market, ultimately.” To keep pace with demand, Suniva is mapping plans for a second plant. Baumstark was tight-lipped on where the company might put the plant, but sources have suggested it could be overseas — including India and Pacific Rim — where Suniva’s major customers are.

Domestically, Suniva is being courted by states salivating over a high-profile clean tech plant. The company has been approached by 10 to 15 states, Baumstark noted. In addition to economic incentives, Suniva’s would consider workforce and proximity to a major port and airport when location-shopping.

While the demand outlook for Suniva might be sunny, clouds linger in the near terms. The solar industry has suffered softness in demand and pricing, amidst a global recession. Solar was growing at a 40 percent compounded annual growth, Baumstark said. “We won’t see 40 percent growth this year in the industry,” he added. 2010 could not only bring improved demand, but carry Suniva to an IPO.

“We have investors, and at some point investors need a return on their money,” Baumstark said. “An IPO is a good way for giving liquidity to investors and providing opportunity for employees and others who have helped build the business.” While the IPO market “right now, is all but closed,” Baumstark noted, Suniva could go public in late 2010, or early 2011.

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