Possible taker circles Isofotón CPV assets

A workers’ cooperative bidding for Isofotón’s manufacturing facility has confirmed a third party could be interested in taking over the CPV assets and restarting production. But the future path of this CPV player may not include CPV projects.

The cooperative leading the bidding for Isofotón’s production facility in Spain has confirmed a third party may be interested in the stricken company’s CPV assets.

Marco Aceña, Isofotón’s former financial director and one of three former Isofotón executives leading Sunrise Power, which has put in a €35m bid for the plant, says the cooperative has received an approach from an unnamed CPV player via an intermediary.

“We have been contacted by a company which is interested in concentration and we wouldn’t have a problem in hiring out the equipment to them so they don’t have to move it,” says Aceña.

Sunrise Power is the only confirmed bidder for the manufacturing assets held by Isofotón, once Spain’s top CPV player, which went into liquidation this month after failing to reach an agreement with creditors.

Chinese solar giant Suntech Power Holdings, which itself has faced financial troubles, is also thought to be pondering a bid, as is Italian-Dutch conglomerate Pufin Power, which manufactures polysilicon modules under the Solland Solar Cells brand.

Aceña says that in the event of a successful bid Sunrise would retain the Isofotón brand name but would not pursue CPV projects. “Our proposal doesn’t include concentrated solar,” he says.

Inheriting machinery

Nevertheless, the CPV manufacturing equipment is based in the same facility as Isofotón’s standard cell and panel-making lines, so it is likely that Sunrise would inherit the machinery if its offer gets accepted. That remains to be seen.

On April 8, Sunrise submitted a plan to take over the manufacturing plant using €29m in financing from the Andalusia Innovation and Development Agency (Agencia de Innovación y Desarrollo de Andalucía or IDEA in Spanish) plus €6m from other sources.

The offer would also allow Sunrise to keep Isofotón’s brand, customer base and Japanese operations. Around €33m would go to pay off an Isofotón debt with the Andalusian government while the remainder would go to creditors.

Sunrise proposed paying in staggered payments over 13 years, with an initial three-year deferral. The offer was supported by worker’s union Comisiones Obreras, but failed to impress Isofotón’s administrators, which had already started proceedings to wind the company down.

The proceedings led to a court order on May 9 giving the administrators 15 days to come up with a plan for the sale of assets to satisfy €303m in debts owed by the company.

Aceña says Sunrise is now revising its offer so it can be re-presented within the winding-down framework, while IDEA is considering whether to sign off the funds. Should the offer be accepted, the plan is to re-start the company with 240 workers paying €6,000 each.

Joining the scheme

Press reports say more than 260 ex-employees have expressed an interest in joining the scheme. Unemployment in Andalucia was at 34.9% in the first quarter of 2014, according to official figures.

What remains unclear is whether any other bidders will come forward for Isofotón.

Suntech was unreachable for comment and a spokesperson for Pufin Power could not immediately be reached. Isofotón itself is no longer taking calls and an ex-employee contacted by PV Insider declined to make any statements.

Aceña says the 33-year-old company, which has been in administration since June 2013, has no pipeline to speak of. “Isofotón has lost all its clients and contracts,” he says. “We have spent the last four months trying to pick up relations with old contacts.”

Fatima Toor, of Lux Research, says Chinese manufacturers such as Suntech might have a particular interest in acquiring Isofotón’s manufacturing assets because it would give them a European fabrication base to circumvent import restrictions.

“People are saying Suntech is going to buy Isofotón and I think it should be able to find some sort of Asian partner,” she says. “Because of all the trade wars that are occurring, people like Suntech and Yingli in China are pretty upset.”

China options

She offers her opinion, “These Chinese companies need some sort of capacity externally to ship modules to markets like the US. So Isofotón could be bought up, at pennies, naturally. It would not be a nice deal for Isofotón.”

However, given China’s scant track record in concentrated PV deployment, a Chinese owner is unlikely to be interested in Isofotón’s CPV assets and intellectual property.

For these, Josefin Berg, senior analyst for solar power at IHS says, “bigger CPV players would be the most interesting ones” to consider.

Previously, though, “they would have to split it up,” she says. “I don’t see anyone taking on the whole company. I don’t see much real value.”

Whichever way you look at it, the signs are not good for a company that was once the pride of the Spanish PV sector and a CPV player with a presence in more than 60 countries. Isofotón may yet rise from the ashes, but certainly not as a CPV vendor in its own right.