Meyer Burger achieved its strategic goals for 2021 and has successfully transformed itself from a system and technology provider to an integrated manufacturer of high-performance solar cells and modules. We set ourselves a very ambitious schedule for this transformation, as demonstrated by the list of milestones already achieved: Certification of the modules, launch of solar cell production in Thalheim (Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Saxony-Anhalt) and the SmartWire module factory in Freiberg (Saxony), and alteration of the former Solarworld factory and conversion to SmartWire production lines within just eight months, leading to the establishment of the most modern and environmentally friendly production facility of its kind in Europe. More than 400 new, highly qualified jobs were created at the two locations. Despite the difficult situation on the labor market, we have succeeded in building highly motivated teams in all areas. At the same time, supply chains had to be established and secured, and the new sales organization set up along with completely new customer relationships.
To realign the brand, we launched a broad marketing campaign to establish Meyer Burger as a premium brand. Under the motto “Ready to shine”, we are positioning ourselves as the leading European solar brand, designed in Switzerland and made in Germany. With our modules, we are setting new standards in the solar industry in terms of performance and quality, while also meeting high sustainability requirements. Our products are manufactured with 100-percent renewable energy in accordance with the highest social and environmental standards. For example, we do not use any toxic lead whatsoever throughout the production process. We also prefer to work with local manufacturers and suppliers, which reduces transport distances, delivery times and, above all, emissions.
The reorientation of people´s preferences toward transparent, environmentally friendly, and fairly manufactured products with a reliable short supply chain has become a megatrend that can be seen in all segments. Meyer Burger is ideally positioned to meet customer requirements in this regard. The demand for the rooftop segment, which was planned from the outset, developed well and the quantities produced were sold out within a short time. Meyer Burger is recognized as a premium brand by retailers and customers and is ideally positioned in its Swiss home market in particular. We are represented regionally in all important European markets and in the U.S. At the end of 2021, we were already supplying around 30 major customers and had over 450 registered installers in Europe alone.
“The balance sheet, on the other hand, clearly shows the investments in the two new production sites and the progressive setup of warehouses required for efficient order processing. In addition, the financing received this year is to be seen as a sustainable cornerstone of future success.”
Owing to the benefits of our high-performance modules, we have been able to assert ourselves in the segment for commercial rooftop systems. We are supplying more than 6,000 modules manufactured in German to the Europa Park Stadium for the SC Freiburg soccer club. The solar power system on the stadium roof will produce around 2.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and thus cover the annual energy requirements of the German football Bundesliga club in a climate-neutral manner.
The complete transformation of the company was hampered by numerous operational challenges and was made even more difficult by the effects of the pandemic. Short-term, unexpected supply bottlenecks for system-relevant individual components, which had to be procured externally, delayed the startup of production. The ramp-up of production took almost six months and therefore longer than planned. Module production in particular requires much coordination with respect to technology and production logistics and every unforeseen interruption to operations had a significant impact on the production volume. Very high numbers of staff who were out due to illness, as well as a high absence rate due to quarantine rules in Saxony during the pandemic, forced Meyer Burger to reduce production output for new solar modules in the fourth quarter of 2021 and beyond. All these factors combined delayed the production ramp-up and thus affected our ability to achieve our internal operational targets for 2021. Ramp-up costs and the incomplete absorption of production overheads pose a major challenge at the outset of every production ramp-up. However, our cost structures have been improving and continue to improve. In addition, we expect that the scaling of production, which is now foreseeable, will enable us to achieve the planned target figures.
Our realignment and the establishment of new production sites, which characterized the 2021 financial year, led as expected to only modest results in the income statement. With a turnover of around CHF 39.9 million, Meyer Burger achieved an EBITDA of CHF –72.5 million and an annual result of CHF –100.5 million. This reflects in particular the operating costs of the setup phase, as well as the final adjustments made to the old business.
The balance sheet, on the other hand, clearly shows the investments in the two new production sites and the establishment of warehouses and storage capacities that enable efficient order processing. In addition, the balance sheet reflects the financing received this year, which serves as a sustainable foundation for future success.
We have successfully secured financing for the next growth phase. The company has raised CHF 80 million from a private placement of new shares, and a further EUR 145 million from a private placement of a green convertible bond that will mature in 2027. Meyer Burger was also able to secure the expansion of cell and module capacities with a syndicated loan agreement of EUR 125 million and a factoring agreement of EUR 60 million. Both credit facilities, including the usual financial covenants, were concluded at arm's length conditions on the market.
The operational challenges of last year appear set to continue in 2022. The disruptions to the global supply chains are not over. Nevertheless, we are confident about the next expansion phase. The energy transition – away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources – is stimulating the photovoltaic market, above all because of the unbeatably low costs involved. Solar energy is one of the cheapest primary sources of electricity in the world today. China in particular has benefited from this thus far. Since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict at the very latest, the consensus is that Europe must quickly become more independent with regard to energy. The West is therefore increasingly focusing on renewable energies in order to reduce dependence on Russia, the Middle East, and Asia. As the only company with specific gigawatt expansion projects in the field of crystalline photovoltaics at the moment, Meyer Burger is ideally positioned in this regard.
Our products are of high quality and the prices achieved meet our expectations. We were able to significantly improve processes in the first year of production. Thanks to our expertise in mechanical engineering, the findings from the ramp-up phase are being used to optimize equipment. The capacity expansion to 1.4 gigawatts (GW) at the Thalheim site and 1 GW at the Freiberg site is in full swing, and the first plant expansions have already been carried out in Freiberg. In the U.S., Goodyear, Arizona, was chosen as a production site. Proximity to the customer, the availability of skilled workers, and strong local partnerships were the deciding factors here. Plans call for an annual production capacity of 0.4 GW in the U.S. for the time being; the existing infrastructure will allow for expansion to 1.5 GW, however. Over 500 qualified production jobs will be created in the final expansion stage.
“Our products comply with high quality requirements and the prices achieved meet our expectations. We were able to significantly improve the processes in the first year of production. Thanks to our expertise in mechanical engineering, the findings from the ramp-up phase can be used to optimize the equipment.”
As part of the expansion at the locations, we will also be launching new products for the Rooftop and Commercial & Industrial customer groups. In parallel we are also working on our solar roof tiles and hope to conduct initial pilot customer projects in 2022.
At the research sites in Switzerland and Germany, as well as in exclusive cooperation with CSEM (Centre Suisse d'Électronique et de Microtechnique) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, we are pressing ahead with the industrialization of IBC technology based on our heterojunction technology as the next evolutionary technology step, and are bringing it to market maturity. IBC stands for Interdigitated Back Contact. In IBC modules, the wiring is only mounted on the rear of the cell, which enables better use of sunlight without any shading on the front side facing the sun. Especially in combination with our SmartWire technology, this offers significant advantages in terms of efficiency and costs. We expect to be able to use this proprietary technology in all market segments in the future.
Even though after Oxford Photovoltaics Limited (Oxford PV) ended a cooperation agreement with us that had been in place since 2019, perovskite tandem technology remains an integral part of Meyer Burger’s medium-term technology roadmap. New partnerships with leading research institutes are on the horizon. We ourselves have a comprehensive portfolio of processes, technologies and production techniques for our own potential large-scale production of tandem solar cells and modules.
By appointing Katja Tavernaro as a member of the Executive Board, the Board of Directors has ensured that Meyer Burger, as a green company, will set new standards in the solar industry in terms of sustainability. Katja Tavernaro has taken on the newly created role of Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). She is responsible within the Group for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and for Human Resources, Legal & Compliance. Meyer Burger plans to embed ESG principles throughout the company. With effect from 1 January 2022, the Board of Directors also appointed two other new members to the Executive Board: Daniel Menzel as Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Moritz Borgmann as Chief Commercial Officer (CCO). This puts the company in a good operational position for further expansion steps and accelerated growth in Europe and the U.S. Our Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Nathalie Benedikt, appointed at the end of 2021, unfortunately left the company after a few weeks at her own request and for personal reasons. The CFO’s areas of responsibility are being managed on an interim basis by the CEO and CSO. On 4 May 2021, the General Meeting of Meyer Burger Technology AG elected Swiss attorney Urs Schenker as the successor to Urs Fähndrich on the Board of Directors.
2021 was a difficult year full of challenges. The Board of Directors and the Executive Board would like to thank all employees for their tireless efforts. We would also like to thank you, dear shareholders, for putting your trust in us and investing in Meyer Burger’s new business model. We have completed the transformation and are now ready to take off. Solar energy is indispensable for electrification in a climate-neutral society. With our products, we can contribute to climate protection, security of supply, and price stability in the field of electrical energy.
Chief Executive Officer
Opening of the new solar cell production facility on May 19, 2021 in Thalheim (city of Bitterfeld-Wolfen) with CEO Gunter Erfurt, Saxony-Anhalt's Minister of Economic Affairs, Prof. Armin Willingmann and on screen State Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff.
Europe's largest solar module production site in Freiberg, Saxony, went into operation at the push of a button on May 26, 2021. In addition to CEO Gunter Erfurt, Saxony's Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer and State Minister for Environmental Affairs, Wolfram Günther, were also present.
Exterior view of the new Meyer Burger cell manufacturing facility in Thalheim, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.
View of the entrance area of the new solar module production facility in Freiberg, Saxony, Germany.