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Top Chinese solar company plans huge expansion

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Yingli will add nearly 50 percent to its manufacturing capacity in 2012. It hopes to increase shipments of solar panels by even more. Will it make money, following Q4 2011 losses?

Kicking off a New Year: Yingli is adding nearly 50% to its manufacturing capacity in China in 2012. Above, Yingli solar panels provide electricity at a New York Jets football facility in New Jersey.

It's been a rough year in solar, even for China's Yingli Green Energy, one of the photovoltaic industry's largest vendors. But Yingli's CEO sees a lively 2012, as he announced this week that the company will add nearly 50 percent to its manufacturing capacity in its home country, and that it plans to increase shipments by even more.

"We are on track to add another 750 MW (megawatts) manufacturing capacity in Haikou, Tianjan and Baoding this year, which we expect will support our full year shipment guidance of 2.4 to 2.5 GW (gigawatts) for 2012," Yingli chairman and CEO Liansheng Miao said in a press release announcing a net loss of $599 million for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, 2011.

The 750 MW boost would bring the total manufacturing capacity to 2.45 gigawatts. Yingli makes finished solar panels as well as the polysilicon and the solar cells that go into them.

By shipping 2.5 GW of solar panels, Yingli would boost shipments by 56 percent compared to 1.6 GW of shipments in 2011, when for the year the company reported a net loss of $509.8 million, as revenue improved by 17 percent to $2.3 billion. Revenues plunged 37 percent in the fourth quarter, softening the yearly figure.

But whether 2012's 56 percent shipment increase would restore profits is another matter. The targeted increase is similar to the 51 percent increase to 1.6 MW that Yingli registered in 2010-to-2011, when prices plummeted and several solar companies filed for insolvency.

Yingli's gross margins in the fourth quarter tanked to 3 percent, from 32.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

"Challenges continue in 2012 due to potential adjustments in European markets and the anti-dumping annd countervailing duty investigation in the U.S.," Miao said. "However, the potential riks are mitigated by the clear increase in applications globally as solar electricity has become much more affordable. We are confident that we will continue to gain market share by leveraging our strong brand, cutting-edge techology and competitive cost structure."

Miao expressed much more optimism for sales to the Chinese market than to the U.S, where he said "we maintain a cautiously optimistic view" because of the anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations.

"As one of the most promising markets, China is expected to sustain its strong growth momentum supported by the boom of the utility segment and the steady growth of the roof-top segment," he said. China accounted for about 22 percent of Yingi's revenues in 2011, up from 6 percent in 2010. Miao said the company is increasing resources in Europe, but expressed some concern over cutbacks in industry subsidies such as feed in tariffs.

Photo from Yingli

A related solar sampler, from SmartPlanet. Search "solar" on SmartPlanet for much more:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure