Company News

UPDATE 2-Suntech looking to triple US sales, add dealers

* Suntech aims for U.S. market share of 20 pct

* Seeing good demand for its products across the globe

* Expects polysilicon prices to fall to as low as $35/kg (Adds comments on polysilicon prices, U.S. market, background on U.S. plant)

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 8 (Reuters) - China's biggest solar panel maker, Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd STP.N, aims to triple sales in the United States market and expand its dealer network this year, a Suntech executive told Reuters on Monday.

“Suntech has been more in a situation where there is more demand for our products than we had supply,” Suntech Chief Strategy Officer Steven Chan said in an interview. “If we had the ability to produce more panels, we could sell the panels.”

His comments come as the solar industry is hoping for a rebound this year after a difficult 2009 when prices for solar parts fell and the credit crisis choked off funding for new projects.

Investors fear that proposed subsidy cuts in Germany, the world’s largest solar market, could cast a pall over the market.

But Chan expects any panel price reductions in countries other than Germany to be “very, very tempered” because of increasing demand.

He is confident Suntech would be able to grow its share of the U.S. solar power market to 20 percent in 2010 from about 15 percent last year.

Suntech is expanding its capacity and announced last month that it has selected the city of Goodyear in the Phoenix, Arizona, area for the site of its first U.S. plant.

Chan said he expects Suntech to get a boost from a growing U.S. solar market, which some analysts say could double in size this year. He also expects business to continue improving as financing gets easier.

The company plans to add another 50 dealers this year in the United States to bring the total number of dealers to over 300.

The U.S. plant will begin production in September with an annual capacity of 30 megawatts with potential to expand to 120 megawatts.

Suntech is expecting a boost this year from a further fall in prices of polysilicon, the material that is used in majority of solar panels.

Chan expects polysilicon prices to fall to a range of $35-$40 per kilogram from the current price of about $55 per kilogram.

“We actually have seen a lot of new entrants who are starting to ship decent quality polysilicon in progressively higher volumes,” he said.

Over all, Suntech has said it expects to increase global shipments at least 75 percent this year compared with 2009, a year in which it expects to have shipped 650 megawatts worth of solar panels.

“That forecast still holds and I am very, very bullish that we can improve upon that,” Chan said.

Last week, Suntech’s managing director for business development in the United States Roger Efird had said the planned cuts to German solar power incentives may result in an industrywide price decline of solar panels.

But Efird also told an industry gathering in Washington DC that he expected the U.S. solar market to show strong growth this year, potentially doubling from an estimated 500 megawatts that were installed in 2009.

One megawatt is enough to power about 800 homes.

“The German feed-in tariff situation is very dynamic and fluid and so it’s a little bit premature for us to speculate what the prices would be,” Chan told Reuters on Monday. (Reporting by Poornima Gupta; editing by Andre Grenon and Tim Dobbyn)