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Hanergy says it can make ‘thin film’ solar technology a success

Chinese buyer of MiaSole to invest in research, keep US workforce.


BEIJING — The Chinese company that bought MiaSole, a California producer of thin-film solar panels, says it can make the emerging technology successful where others have suffered huge losses.

Hanergy Group’s strong finances will help MiaSole invest in research and ride out a downturn in the global solar market, while its links to customers in China and abroad will help build sales, chairman Li Hejun said. Hanergy says it is China’s biggest privately owned renewable energy company, with interests in hydro, wind and solar power.

MiaSole, in Santa Clara, Calif., was one of several well-funded US startups that invested in thin film, which is more efficient than traditional silicon cells. But they struggled after a plunge in prices of silicon cells due to a glut of supply from China hurt sales of the new technology. Producers including Solyndra, Beacon Power and Abound Solar filed for bankruptcy.

Hanergy bought MiaSole late last year from venture capital firms that financed it. The sale formally closed Jan. 8.

The acquisition reflects a growing trend for Chinese companies, flush with cash from the country’s boom, to speed their development by acquiring foreign technology and brands in industries from computers to cars to tourism.

Hanergy has pledged to retain MiaSole’s US workforce of about 100 people. Li said the Chinese owner will invest in research and hire additional American staff.

Last June, Hanergy also bought a German thin-film producer, Solibro, a unit of bankrupt solar panel maker Q-Cells.

Li, who founded Hanergy in 1994 to build and operate hydroelectric dams, declined to specify how much it paid for MiaSole but said it was about one-tenth of the initial $1.2 billion asking price. News reports last year put the price at $30 million, but Li said that was only what Hanergy agreed to repay to MiaSole’s creditors as part of the purchase.

MiaSole’s backers invested more than $550 million in the company.

Producers of solar equipment were battered by a collapse in prices in 2009-10 after Chinese government grants and other support encouraged hundreds of small producers to flood into the market over the past decade.

China’s biggest producers of silicon cells have reported hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. Smaller producers have closed and industry analysts expect more mergers and bankruptcies as Beijing tries to reduce overcapacity.