Evergreen Solar (NSDQ: ESLR) is looking at contracting with manufacturers to make solar cells and panels using its ultra-thin silicon wafers, the company said Thursday on its earnings call.
Until now, the Marlboro, Mass.-based Evergreen has been making its own wafers, cells and panels. While the company plans to complete the factory-building plans already underway, it also is in discussions with subcontractors to buy silicon wafers from Evergreen and turn them into cells and panels bearing Evergreen's brand, said CEO Richard M. Feldt during a conference call with analysts.
Evergreen had considered building a $225 million, 150-megawatt factory in Asia. But raising money for this project has been difficult, Feldt said. Contracting with outside manufacturers would save the company 75 percent of the capital cost while allowing it to fulfill its contracts with customers, he added.
Feldt resisted the suggestion that the company is changing it business model.
"I wouldn't characterize this as a fundamental transformation. We have a real advantage in making wafers," he said. Using subconstractors "would be a more effective use of our capital."
Evergreen has developed thin wafers that it has branded "String Ribbon," a technology the company claims can produce wafers at a low cost.
The company's shares dropped nearly 13 percent to reach $1.95 per share in after-market trading.
Evergreen doubled its fourth-quarter revenue from a year earlier, but its gross margin suffered significantly as a result of lower selling prices for its products and higher manufacturing costs, the company said.
The firm generated $44.2 million in revenue, compared with $22.2 million from the same period in 2007. The revenues included fees from Sovello (formerly EverQ), its joint venture with Q-Cells and REC.
Gross margin for the fourth quarter was 4.6 percent, down from 28.1 percent from the year-ago period.
Evergreen widened its fourth quarter net loss to $52.1 million, or 32 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $23.8 million, or 18 cents per share, in the third quarter. The company posted a net income of $788,000, or 1 cent per share, for the fourth quarter of 2007.
The fourth-quarter net loss included a charge of $23.1 million to close its Marlboro pilot factory, $8 million to write off research and development equipment and $9.7 million for starting up its factories in Devens, Mass. and Midland, Mich.
Evergreen brought in $112 million in revenue for 2008, up 60 percent from $69.9 million for 2007. It posted a net loss of $84.9 million, or 65 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $16.6 million, or 19 cents per share, for 2007.
The company closed its hometown pilot factory, at the end of last year to focus its resources on its commercial factory in Devens, Mass.
The Devens factory rolled out its very first panel last July, and produced 8.5 megawatts worth of solar panels in the fourth quarter. The company expects to expand the factory's production capacity to 40 megawatts per quarter, or $2 per watt, by the end of this year.
Evergreen is building the factory in Midland to produce heat-resistant filaments for making the wafers.
The firm declined to provide a quarterly sales and production forecast, saying the economic downturn makes it difficult to gauge demand.
Two of the Evergreen's customers have delayed taking deliveries of 4 megawatts worth of panels until later this year, Feldt said. Evergreen has been able to find new buyers for the products at the same contract prices, he added.
Feldt noted that while "things feel unsettled," Evergreen's customers have remained optimistic about the solar market.
"We are not Pollyanna, but we haven't ourselves experienced any major erosions yet," he said.
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