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Edited Transcript of SPWR earnings conference call or presentation 1-Aug-17 8:30pm GMT

Thomson Reuters StreetEvents

Q2 2017 SunPower Corp Earnings Call

SAN JOSE Aug 13, 2017 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of SunPower Corp earnings conference call or presentation Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 8:30:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Charles D. Boynton

SunPower Corporation - CFO, Principal Accounting Officer and EVP

* Robert Okunski

SunPower Corporation - Senior Director of IR

* Thomas H. Werner

SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President

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Conference Call Participants

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* Brian Lee

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP and Senior Clean Energy Analyst

* Colin William Rusch

Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst

* Krishnamurthi Shankar

Banc of America Securities LLC, Research Division

* Paul Coster

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst, Alternative Energy, and Applied and Emerging Technologies

* Pavel S. Molchanov

Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Energy Analyst

* Vishal B. Shah

Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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(technical difficulty)

(Operator Instructions) I would now like to turn the call over to Bob Okunski, Vice President of Investor Relations at SunPower. You may begin.

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Robert Okunski, SunPower Corporation - Senior Director of IR [2]

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Thank you, Gee. I'd like to welcome everyone to our Second Quarter 2017 Earnings Conference Call. On the call today, we will start out with a strategic and operational review from Tom Werner, our CEO; followed by Chuck Boynton, our CFO, who will review our second quarter 2017 financial results. Tom will then discuss our outlook for Q3 and 2017. As a reminder, a replay of this call will be available later today on the Investor Relations page of our website.

During today's call, we will make forward-looking statements that are subject to various risks and uncertainties that are described in the safe harbor slide of today's presentation, today's press release, our 2016 10-K and our quarterly reports on Form 10-Q. Please see those documents for additional information regarding those factors that may affect these forward-looking statements.

To enhance this call, we have also posted a set of PowerPoint slides, which we will reference during this call, on the Events & Presentations page of our Investor Relations website. In the same location, we have posted a supplemental data sheet detailing some of our historical metrics as well.

With that, I'd like to turn the call over to Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower, who'll begin on Slide 3. Tom?

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [3]

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Thanks, Bob, and thank you for joining us today. Today, I'll start by reviewing our performance for the quarter by segment. I will then reiterate our strategy and key initiatives we are pursuing to position SunPower for long-term success before concluding with some remarks on the Section 201 trade case. In Q2, we achieved our financial goals, including our cash generation and adjusted EBITDA targets.

Please turn to Slide 4 for a review of our residential business. We executed well on residential, delivering a sequential increase in megawatts deployed and megawatts recognized. ASPs are relatively stable, and demand for our industry-leading X-Series panels and Equinox complete solutions remains strong. In the U.S., we saw a continued modest mix shift to lease. We once again exceeded plan in both Europe and Japan and continue to gain share in both markets. We are also seeing continued traction in our new homes business as we exceeded plan for the quarter. As a reminder, we have partnerships with 7 of the top 10 new home builders in the country and see significant opportunity in this market. Looking forward, we expect continued strength in the second half of the year in the U.S. market, driven by Equinox adoption rates of 85%. Additionally, we plan further expansion of our dealer network and third-party channel partnerships in Japan.

Moving on to commercial. Please turn to Slide 5. The fundamentals for our commercial business remains solid. Adoption of our Helix product is strong, and with a pipeline of approximately $2 billion, we are well positioned to grow our commercial business going forward. Recent commercial project highlights include commencement of construction on a 4-megawatt system at Campbell's Soup global headquarters, award of a 5-megawatt project for UC Merced that includes 500 kilowatts of battery storage as well as an additional order for 1 megawatt of storage at our 10-megawatt Redstone Arsenal Army project. We are also seeing continued strength in our commercial dealer channel or CVAR network, where we are 100% booked for Q3. Looking forward, we see further deployment growth of our Helix systems across rooftop, ground-mount and carport applications and continued expansion of our solar and storage project pipeline, driven by policy support in key states.

Now let's review our power plant business. Please turn to Slide 6. In Q2, we executed our key project construction milestones, including completing panel installation at our 110-megawatt El Pelicano project, which remains on plan to be sold in Q4. We also completed sale of our 46-megawatt Tono project in Japan and were awarded a 10-megawatt project for Oklahoma Gas & Electric. As discussed in our live call, our primary focus for the global power plant business going forward will be supply of complete equipment solutions to our new SunPower Solutions business unit. We believe that this group will be a key growth driver to the company going forward.

In Q2, we delivered equipment solutions to 28 countries, including our first significant order for India. SunPower Solutions has booked or contracted 250 megawatts during the quarter, and we are fully booked for Q3. Looking forward, we plan to complete more than 500 megawatts of projects in the second half of the year while continuing to ramp our global solar solutions business.

Moving on to the upstream part of our business. Please turn to Slide 7. Overall production was on plan as we met our yield, output and cost targets for the quarter. In particular, Fab 4 continues to outperform as we, again, beat our cost and efficiency targets. As a reminder, average production cell efficiencies at Fab 4 now regularly exceed 25%. We are also pleased with the ramp of our DZS JV in China, which produced their first 19% efficient mono-PERC P-Series panels and is on track to reach 600 megawatts capacity by year-end. As we mentioned last quarter, we continue to invest in our next-gen cell and module technology, which we believe will significantly reduce cost while maintaining industry-leading performance. We are making strong progress on this initiative and have already manufactured our first next-gen panels in our Silicon Valley research facility. Looking forward, we are focused on our long-term cost reduction road maps, which remain on plan. For the quarter, we returned 100% utilization across all our fabs and expect to be fully utilized for the balance of the year.

I'd now like to spend some time reiterating the key strategic initiatives, which we believe will enable SunPower to drive long-term profitability within an industry environment characterized by decreased financial incentives and increasingly diversified geographical demand. Please turn to Slide 8. We remain committed to returning to profitability in the fourth quarter of this year and be sustainably profitable in the second half of next year while increasing investment in 4 areas. Specifically, first, we will continue to invest in software to make buying, selling, installing and owning SunPower easy. For example, we are seeing strong adoption of our EDDiE sales software solution for our partner network, which significantly streamlines the customer experience. Second, continued investment in our Smart Energy initiatives with a particular near-term emphasis on adding storage to our solar solutions in the commercial segment; third, leveraging our technology innovation expertise to develop new complete DG product solutions that reduce installed costs while increasing performance and user functionality; finally, commercialization of our next-gen cell technology, with initial production slated for the second half of 2018. In addition to these investments, we plan to simplify our overall operations to reduce the complexity of our financial reporting to provide investors with a clearer picture of the health and performance of the business.

Financially, our focus remains on cash generation and deleveraging the balance sheet. As you are aware, we initiated a strategic review last quarter to identify and potentially divest those assets that are no longer core to our operations, including our ownership interest in 8point3, our joint YieldCo venture with First Solar. Chuck will provide more details on this in his comments. Downstream, we will focus on continuing to expand our share in key DG markets and on growing our SunPower Solutions business to access the globalizing solar power plant market.

Before turning the call over to Chuck to review our financial performance, I would like to spend a few minutes discussing the Section 201 trade case in front of the U.S. International Trade Commission. As the leading player in the U.S. solar industry, we have a strong interest in this case and are actively involved in the U.S. Solar Energy Industry Association's response to this filing by 2 foreign-owned manufacturers. In September, the ITC is scheduled to decide whether to recommend the imposition of import tariffs or quotas on solar panels and to subsequently propose specific remedies in November.

Please turn to Slide 9. As many of you know, the U.S. solar industry currently operates under rules that impose import tariffs on specific companies identified by the Department of Commerce in 2014 that's practicing illegal price dumping. This new filing proposes much broader remedies that would apply to any importer of crystalline silicon solar panels regardless of the business practices or the product's country of origin. We believe that the proposed remedies run counter to long-established free trade principles. We are also convinced that the requested remedies could significantly impact the U.S. solar market, imposing a direct burden on manufacturers of solar panels and associated equipment, raising prices for customers and eliminating tens of thousands of jobs. This trade case supports fewer than 1,000 U.S. jobs in foreign-owned manufacturers while putting at risk nearly 260,000 high-paying downstream jobs, all of which are in the U.S. and many of which are with local small businesses. We are working with our industry trade association to ensure that the commission and the Trump administration understand the negative implications of the proposed remedies. This case is already starting to have an impact on the U.S. markets. For example, some installers are building inventory for safe harbor purposes to partially mitigate a potential negative outcome. As a result, ASPs have stabilized and actually increased in some markets. Also, the timing of certain projects have already been delayed pending the 201 decision.

While there is uncertainty over the next several months as this process unfolds, SunPower is strategically evaluating a robust set of options to address potential government actions. It would be premature for us to go into further detail at this time, but it is worth noting that global demand for our high-performance products is strong and that SunPower has a long history of proactively adapting to various policy shifts around the globe.

In conclusion, despite near-term industry challenges and policy volatility, we see tremendous growth potential for solar power around the globe, and we are focused on restructuring our business -- structuring our business to profitably capitalize on this opportunity.

With that, I would like to turn the call over to Chuck to review the financials. Chuck?

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Charles D. Boynton, SunPower Corporation - CFO, Principal Accounting Officer and EVP [4]

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Thanks, Tom, and good afternoon. I will first review our second quarter results and then discuss certain financial highlights for the quarter. I will then turn the call back over to Tom for our guidance.

Please turn to Slide 10. We are pleased to meet or exceed our forecast while continuing to our restructuring programs and prudently managing cash and working capital. Our non-GAAP revenue was above guidance as we executed according to plan in all segments. In power plants, we continue to build projects for second half delivery. In our DG business, we saw strong sequential growth in residential, while commercial was lower primarily due to project timing. We expect commercial revenue to improve in the second half of the year, and we are seeing a particularly strong fourth quarter as our direct business is fully booked for the year. Overall, our non-GAAP gross margin was 12% as we benefited from strong performance in our factories, a stable pricing environment and continued strength in residential.

Specifically by segment. Q2 power plant margins remain challenging, and we expect this to continue in Q3. However, we expect a very strong Q4 with the sale of our El Pelicano project in Chile. Non-GAAP commercial margins rose sequentially, and we are forecasting continued commercial margin improvement throughout the year. In residential, margins increased versus Q1 as we benefited from a better seasonal environment and stable pricing. Internationally, Europe and Japan were, again, ahead of plan. In North America, cash and loan sales were 65% of our shipments, while 35% were leased.

Overall, we deployed 87 megawatts of residential products globally, up from 73 in Q1 and in line with our forecasts. Lease bookings were above plan at 31 megawatts, with cumulative lease bookings of more than 386 megawatts in our holdco. Net contracted payments are approximately $1.5 billion, excluding any renewal or residual value. In addition, NCI for the quarter was $19 million. We remain confident that we will have sufficient tax equity capacity to meet our 2017 demand. Non-GAAP OpEx was $79 million and in line with our restructuring targets. We are continuing to ramp P-Series production in Mexico and in China. CapEx for the quarter was $17 million.

I would now like to discuss a few financial highlights for the quarter. Please turn to Slide 11. As forecasted, we saw a decline in cash to $325 million in Q2 as we continued our project build-outs and restructure initiatives. We expect cash to decline marginally in Q3 and then a significant increase in Q4, along with a decrease in project debt as we complete project sales. We're also working on various financing options related to our approximately 400 megawatts of residential lease assets on the balance sheet. As you know, we have done several back-leverage transactions in the past and hope to close our next transaction in the near future. This monetization will help to recycle capital deployed in the business.

Our strategic review of 8point3 is continuing. But given significant initial interest in the acquisition of our general partnership stake or in the sale of the entire partnership, we have made the decision to not actively seek a replacement partner for First Solar and to focus our efforts on the monetization of our ownership stake in the partnership. While there are no assurances that this transaction will take place, the proceeds of the sale would provide us with additional resources not only to make strategic investments but also to retire our 2018 convertible bond to minimize shareholder dilution. Additionally, depending on market conditions, we may have the opportunity to refinance our 2018 converts as well. We offered our Boulder Solar project to 8point3 and potentially will offer other ROFO projects to the partnership over the next 2 quarters. If the partnership waives its rights to acquire these projects, we would sell them to third parties. In either case, we expect the sale of these ROFO projects to generate additional cash proceeds to fund our growth initiatives.

I would now like to provide an update on the assets we have in relation to our holdco strategy. Please turn to Slide 12. Our holdco strategy reflects 1.6 gigawatts of assets contracted, in construction or in operations. Residential assets rose 31 megawatts sequentially, reflecting new SunPower lease customers. Commercial was up slightly as solid bookings were partially offset by achieving COD in certain projects. In power plant, our overall megawatts were unchanged during the quarter and will likely decrease over the second half as we sell projects.

In summary, we are pleased with our performance in Q2, and we expect our restructuring plan, prudently manage our cash and further position the company for the long term.

With that, I'll turn the call back to Tom for our guidance. Tom?

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [5]

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Thanks, Chuck. I would now like to discuss our guidance for the third quarter as well as our updated fiscal year 2017 outlook. Please turn to Slide 13. As I mentioned in my remarks, we expect to deliver more than 500 megawatts of power plant projects in the second half, with significant margin contribution in the fourth quarter. This will directly impact second half linearity. Given our narrowed focus on power plant self-development and increasing growth in SunPower Solutions, we expect linearity to improve in 2018.

As a result, our third quarter fiscal 2017 GAAP guidance is as follows: revenue of $300 million to $350 million, gross margin of negative 3% to negative 1% and a net loss of $120 million to $100 million. Third quarter 2017 GAAP guidance includes the impact of the company's holdco asset strategy, revenue and timing deferrals due to real estate accounting as well as the impact of charges related to the company's restructuring initiatives. On a non-GAAP basis, the company expects revenue of $320 million to $370 million; gross margin of 5% to 7%; EBITDA, breakeven to $20 million; and megawatts deployed in the range of 405 to 435 megawatts.

The company is updating its fiscal year 2017 revenue and gigawatt deployed guidance. The company now expects revenue of $1.85 billion to $2.05 billion on a GAAP basis and $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion on a non-GAAP basis, with gigawatts deployed in the range of 1.3 to 1.45 gigawatts. This change is due to project schedule adjustments in Mexico to allow for improved project economics. Balance of the company's previously disclosed fiscal year 2017 guidance remains essentially unchanged: non-GAAP operational expenses of less than $350 million, capital expenditures of approximately $120 million and lower-than-forecasted GAAP restructuring charges now totaling $20 million to $60 million. Additionally, the company expects -- continues to expect to generate positive operating cash flow through the end of fiscal year 2017 and to exit the year with approximately $300 million in cash, excluding any proceeds from the potential divestiture of non-core assets. The company is also forecasting positive adjusted EBITDA for the full year 2017 and continues to believe that cash flow and liquidity remain the key evaluation metric for investors in the near term.

With that, I would like to turn the call over for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question is coming from Vishal Shah.

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Vishal B. Shah, Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [2]

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We just would like to -- the first one, can you maybe give us a little bit more color on the Mexico project timing and the economics there? And then we have a follow-up.

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [3]

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Sure. On Mexico, we have 2 large projects that we're permitting. One is called Ticul and one is called Guajiro. They're both progressing through the permitting process. In the case of Ticul, it has to go through a social consultation process that is in the early stages of projects going through it. So we're sort of working through the process with the authorities in Mexico. And so the project has not gotten its permit yet, but we expect it to happen soon. And in the case of Guajiro, we expect the permit to come soon as well, and then we would be able to finish perfecting the project and start construction.

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Vishal B. Shah, Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [4]

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Great. So the follow-up is actually storage. So you mentioned there are a lot of strong demand for energy storage in the commercial sector and given some key state incentives. So could you just elaborate that? Like what percentage of the demand from bookings are from like solar plus storage in the commercial sector?

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [5]

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Sure. So storage, throughout most of this year, was sort of low single-digits attach rate. As we look at our pipeline that we'd start to fulfill late this year and early next year, that almost triples to almost 15% attach rate. And the application is almost exclusively demand charge elimination. And there are several states that we think come online next year that will cause the -- or be the catalyst for the 15% attach rate versus what we see today, at low single-digits attach rate.

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Operator [6]

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Our second question is coming from Krish Sankar. Our next question is coming from Brian Lee.

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Brian Lee, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP and Senior Clean Energy Analyst [7]

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Goldman Sachs. Maybe first off, with respect to the strategic options, I know you're talking about asset sales here for the past couple of quarters. Maybe just an update on the process there, where it stands. And then you introduced the resi back-levering option. How much capacity do you specifically have on the portfolio? Maybe what type of loan-to-value or advance rate do you think is achievable given the asset quality? And then also, what type of rate do you think is fair to assume on that?

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [8]

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Brian, thanks for the question. So I'll start. So we're going through a strategic -- strategically reinventing the company. We're investing in a number of areas that I mentioned in my prepared remarks, that our digital -- the attachment of storage; disruptive module technologies for our rooftop channels; and finally, our next-generation solar cell, which, of course, will be built into a panel. Those all, I think, considerably change the strategic position of the company. At the same time, we're simplifying our company and our P&L, so it's more straightforward to follow the financial performance and to value the company. And as part of that, we are considering selling some assets. The asset sales are not built into our forecast but would be things like -- Chuck mentioned 8point3 and the decision we made based on market reaction but also has the impact of simplifying our P&L. We would consider other things like -- we have a lot of residential leases on the balance sheet, and it's something that we would consider selling because it would simplify the company. I'll let Chuck talk more about the sale process and also residential back-leverage.

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Charles D. Boynton, SunPower Corporation - CFO, Principal Accounting Officer and EVP [9]

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Certainly, Brian. So as far as 8point3 goes, historically, we talked about 3 different options: a replacement partner for First Solar, selling the GP or selling the whole company. We're not going to comment on the process itself other than SunPower, as a sponsor, has taken the first option off the table, and we are focused on selling our stake along with First Solar. And so -- we won't comment, though, on the process itself. To your question on residential back-leverage, we have 400 megawatts of residential assets on our balance sheet representing $1.5 billion in receivables, long-term receivables, excluding the residual value. Some companies add that into their long-term receivable. For that $1.5 billion, the amount of money we could raise in the short term is lower than long term because of the tax equity partnership flip projects, which, as you know, the way those structures work, cash is allocated to tax equity, and at some point in the future, typically 5 to 7 years, you buy out or their interest decreases. And so the amount of debt available is significantly higher later on. We are looking at and have done some back-leverage, which means that it subordinates the tax equity cash flows. And we are likely to do more. Probably, we'll close one in Q3, and there are many more we could do. We're also evaluating other structures that could unlock cash and, as Tom mentioned, simplify the P&L. I won't comment on specific rates because that's somewhat strategic to us, but I do think that SunPower enjoys kind of best-in-class rates given our profile and the quality of our projects.

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Brian Lee, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - VP and Senior Clean Energy Analyst [10]

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Okay. That's super helpful. Second question. The Section 201 overview, I really appreciate that -- your thoughts around that, Tom. But you guys seem to have maybe one of the more diverse product portfolios among panel suppliers and so maybe one of the most difficult paths to navigate with respect to how Section 201 ultimately breaks here. So can you maybe, at a high level, just walk through some of the implications for Series X, Series E, Series P just as you think about Section 201 and potentially a backdrop where panel prices here in the U.S. are much higher than they are today? How do you view the competitiveness of each of those offerings? And then what do you think -- I know it's early days, but strategically, how you would try to navigate that with the diverse portfolio you do have.

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [11]

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So first, I would say it's early days with 201, and there hasn't even been a hearing yet. So it's difficult to predict where things would end up, and therefore, the planning horizon is quite wide. As we've positioned the company as a residential, commercial and solar solutions company, I think that fits particularly well with potential outcomes, particularly solar solutions, which, as mentioned in my comments, is -- we sold in 28 countries. And we see and as you project as well, the solar market is becoming increasingly spread out among a large number of countries. And so solar solutions fits particularly well and it gives us diversification outside of America. And it's capital efficient because it's a joint venture where we have a small minority position in the actual manufacturing, so it's a very capital-efficient way for us. So on P-Series, think of it as not entirely but largely outside North America, leveraging our joint venture and very, very scalable inherent to the technology and also by virtue of the fact that we're a minority owner of the actual manufacturing. We do have -- up to 2/3 of the output can go to SunPower, so highly leveraged from a capital standpoint. On X and P, those are rooftop -- largely used on rooftop. As things have evolved, those tend to have a higher total installed cost. And so to the degree that there were a tariff, it would have the smallest percentage impact on X and E because of the markets that they serve. And then beyond that, I would just tell you that, of course, we're looking at all aspects of 201 and, of course, looking at all possible alternatives. It's too early for me to communicate what's the most likely -- rest assured that we're looking at all the strategic responses in various scenarios of outcomes. First, we're spending meaningful time on making sure our case, our view on 201 is heard through the most effective avenues.

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Operator [12]

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Our next question is coming from Krish Sankar.

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Krishnamurthi Shankar, Banc of America Securities LLC, Research Division [13]

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BofA Merrill Lynch. The first one I had, either Tom or Chuck, First Solar said that they are able to sell projects to third party at a higher valuation rather than dropping it down to 8point3. I'm kind of curious. Given your new view of looking at 8point3, what precludes you from doing this similar kind of third-party sale? And then I had a follow-up.

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Charles D. Boynton, SunPower Corporation - CFO, Principal Accounting Officer and EVP [14]

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So I think with the announcement today, we're planning to sell 8point3 along with First Solar. So other projects would be sold outside of 8point3, similar to what First Solar did. The other comment, though, is residential and commercial have different profiles, where the return rates are actually, in today's market, a bit more attractive then utility scale. And so just for the -- for some projects that have a strong investment-grade offtake and our large-scale utility project in this market commands a very low IRR, and so we enjoy those same benefits for our utility-scale projects.

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Krishnamurthi Shankar, Banc of America Securities LLC, Research Division [15]

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Got you, got you. And then a question for Tom, and thanks for the color on the Section 201. To the extent you can answer it, in your view, what do you think happens to module prices if the trade case does happen in favor of Suniva? What do you think is the upside to module prices? And on the flip side, if it doesn't go through, what do you think -- where do you think module prices end up going back? Do you think they go back to the June bottom or more downside to module ASPs?

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [16]

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Okay. So I need to be a little more careful, but I will answer your question. And this is my view. And what I would say is in the scenario that the trade case goes through, there's been industry analysts -- and I think Greentech Media is the one most often cited of the size of the impact on module prices and on the end markets. I would say directionally, I believe that to be correct. And I don't want to put numbers out and suggest that I think any number above 0 makes sense or add credibility to any number above 0. But the module pricing in large-scale orders in America are certainly south of $0.35, and I think all of you publish on various numbers. So any tariff would have a meaningful impact in the utility business, I think substantially less so if you go to the other stream in residential. We are already seeing module prices impacted by just the possibility of a tariff that are either stable -- prices are either stabilized or have gone up a few cents. So I think we're seeing empirically, to answer your question, add a few cents, maybe $0.05 or $0.10 after things sell out. If there is no tariff, which we believe should be the case, then I think it returns back to free market competition, in which case, we think that people are selling at cash cost and that, that therefore, and I'm not speaking and talking about the industry, we think that things stabilize next year without a tariff.

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Operator [17]

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Next question is coming from Pavel Molchanov.

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Pavel S. Molchanov, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Energy Analyst [18]

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Raymond James. Back on 8point3. I know you don't want to talk about the process. But when you say that you've been encountering significant interest in buying your GP interest, does that mean there are prospective buyers who only want 100% of the YieldCo rather than simply First Solar's ownership?

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Charles D. Boynton, SunPower Corporation - CFO, Principal Accounting Officer and EVP [19]

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Yes. So the feedback from the market, and again, this is SunPower as a sponsor or an investor talking, not 8point3 talking, but the feedback from the market overwhelmingly was to buy out SunPower and First Solar or buy out the whole company, not to replace First Solar. And based on the feedback from the market, we decided to take that option off the table and no longer seek a replacement partner for First Solar, and that's just simply based on the feedback that we've received. And again, we can't comment or won't comment on the process for the sale.

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Pavel S. Molchanov, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Energy Analyst [20]

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Okay, understood. And then you talked about selling El Pelicano, 110 megawatts in Chile, in Q4. Is there significance to kind of the back-end-loaded timing? Is it feed-in tariff or other policy dynamics that it had -- needs to be pushed out to the end of the year?

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Charles D. Boynton, SunPower Corporation - CFO, Principal Accounting Officer and EVP [21]

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It's simply construction schedule. So the project is pretty much fully built. The panels are all installed. It's going through interconnection and all the testing throughout the second half of the year. And we expect to have it in full commercial operation in Q4 and, at that point, sell the project.

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [22]

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Yes, Pavel, in fact, I would say El Pelicano is within weeks of the original schedule.

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Operator [23]

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Our next question comes from Colin Rusch.

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Colin William Rusch, Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [24]

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Oppenheimer & Co. Guys, could you talk a little bit about the progress with the virtual power plant opportunity? We know you've made some meaningful announcements on that, and certainly, with the reduction in energy storage costs or assuming that there's some progress with some of the other utilities in the U.S., if you could just give us an update on how that's progressing, that would be great.

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [25]

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Yes. So the original virtual power plant that we announced was -- had difficulty in terms of getting permits, specifically the permits needed from the fire department to put storage because of very large units on houses. So we're solving that, but it's taking some time. Now more to your point, is there a general trend, and we see a number of states in the Northeast that are favorably moving in this direction. Yes, we expect more of this. I think it's -- I would call it more of a gradual trend that will happen over years but meaningfully so, and there are several states we expect to capitalize on that technology.

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Colin William Rusch, Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [26]

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Okay. Excellent. And then with your microinverter solution, can you talk a little bit about failure rates and adoption rates for that project as you've rolled it out and started installing with it?

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [27]

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Yes. So adoption rates are consistent with Equinox, so it's I believe 85% of what we ship in residential is with microinverter. So the virtues of the microinverter, which is, as you know, converting from DC to AC at the panel, allow you to configure way more easily. And the fact that it's a complete solution from SunPower, the so-called one-stop shopping, makes it so much better for the end consumer in our residential dealer channel, that the attach rate just skyrocketed since we introduced the concept. And I would say that our failure rates are consistent with what we've seen. And of course, we used other micro -- other inverters and other forms of inverters, and we're certainly consistent with what we see in that category of product. I believe in the long term, our differentiation will be, however, that we'll separate from the pack because we've done an immense amount of work on reliability on the microinverter.

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Operator [28]

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Our last question is coming from Paul Coster.

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Paul Coster, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst, Alternative Energy, and Applied and Emerging Technologies [29]

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JPMorgan. Tom, you talked of a return to sustainable profitability in 2018, and at the same time, you're also reminding everyone that the market is still pretty challenging. The return to profitability, does it assume a recovery in demand, unit volume and/or ASPs? And for that matter, if you'd be kind enough just to sort of talk to us about what kind of things have to happen for the market to transition from being challenging to a little bit more helpful, that would be helpful to us.

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Thomas H. Werner, SunPower Corporation - Chairman of the Board, CEO and President [30]

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All right. You bet. And thank you for the question. My answer to your question is we don't expect meaningful improvement. As I said in my other comments, we expect, I guess, stabilizing module pricing with the improvement, but we're not expecting prices to increase. We're adapting to the new reality. And what we're doing is we're investing in 4 areas that will differentiate us that largely impacts 2019 and beyond, but it starts to impact the back half of '18, particularly our next-gen solar cell and the attach rate of Smart Energy. Both of those are accretive and positive for us. And we focus on the commercial, residential and solar solutions businesses that have a better profitability profile, are less volatile and that we can grow preferentially in because of the nature of our product and because of -- we offer a complete solution. So for our customer, they have one-stop shopping, and we're a credible player, so that matters in those markets. And then particularly in SunPower Solutions, as I mentioned, we'll start to see the benefit of that strategy over the next few quarters, and that really addresses the rest-of-world market in a very capital-efficient way by virtue of the joint venture. So that'd be the uber point one in terms of strategy, and then the second point would be that we've pulled a lot of cost out of the company. Our run rate on OpEx was about $100 million last year and is now sub-$80 million. There's more room there in terms of the way we manage the company. And we talked about asset divestiture, so we expect more progress on that front as well. That fits on the basis of the strategy of moving to more profitable business, of adding some extra features to what we sell. SunPower Solutions and lowering OpEx is the basis of my comments. Okay, Paul, I'm assuming you don't have a follow-on.

So with that, thank you very much for joining the call, and we look forward to our next earnings call with you.

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Operator [31]

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That concludes today's conference. Thank you for your participation. You may disconnect at this time.