Dr. Shawn Qu, Chairman and CEO, commented, “First quarter 2021 revenue and gross margin came in at the high-end of our guidance, as our team remained focused on achieving financial and business improvements despite the challenging market conditions. We nearly doubled our total storage project development pipeline and expect this positive momentum to continue, which should greatly enhance the value of our development pipeline. We further strengthened our competitive position with our recent strategic partnership with Habitat Energy, which will leverage our global scale and platform, while helping us improve the software capabilities of our battery storage projects. As always, Canadian Solar is at the forefront of developing and commercializing the energy innovations that matter to our customers. The latest example is the Q1 production of our first N-type heterojunction (HJT) solar cell from our newest state-of-the-art 250 MW pilot line. Our teams are rapidly improving the cell conversion efficiency of these new cells, and we expect to start delivering our first cutting-edge HJT solar modules in the third quarter this year.
“Separately, the carve-out IPO of CSI Solar remains on track. We officially submitted the listing application materials to the securities regulatory authorities in China, which are now under review per usual procedures.”
Ismael Guerrero, Corporate VP and President of Canadian Solar’s Global Energy subsidiary, said, “In the first quarter of 2021, we delivered approximately 500 MWp of project sales, including 61 MWp in Japan, which were acquired by Canadian Solar Infrastructure Fund, the largest listed infrastructure fund on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. We also continued to grow our solar and storage project pipelines totaling 21 GW and 17 GWh at the end of March, respectively, building one of the largest solar and storage project pipelines in the world. We are excited to report that we have established a new Brazilian Participation Fund for Infrastructure Projects (FIP-IE) and are currently executing on approximately 2 GWp of contracted solar projects in Brazil. Last month, we set up the structure of a Real Estate Investment Fund (REIF) in Italy, which will be a private investment vehicle for our Italian projects currently under development. We will continue to work on investment vehicles in our Global Energy business as we work to build and monetize value for the Company and shareholders.”
Yan Zhuang, President of Canadian Solar’s CSI Solar subsidiary, said, “The first quarter was challenging, as expected, with cost inflation driven by continued higher raw material and transportation costs, and unfavorable foreign exchange fluctuations. For instance, the price of polysilicon has tripled over the past twelve months. We were able to partially mitigate the impact by raising our module prices, which saw a near double digit percentage increase relative to the previous quarter, and prioritizing margins ahead of shipment volumes. Underlying demand for solar energy remains strong driven by ambitious public and private sector targets, yet we are seeing increasing price elasticity of demand and the prospect that certain utility scale projects may be delayed. Meanwhile, we continue to focus on developing our technology differentiation, enhancing our product offering through high value-add system solutions, and working closely with our customers and partners.”
Dr. Huifeng Chang, Senior VP and CFO, added, “In the first quarter of 2021, we achieved $1.1 billion in revenue, 17.9% gross margin and $23 million net income, executing to the high end of guidance. Net income increased to $0.36 per diluted share from $0.11 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2020, even with higher taxes and unfavorable foreign exchange conditions. We ended the first quarter with $1.5 billion in cash, allowing us to selectively build strategic stock of key materials in support of higher customer demand and lessen the impact of increasing raw material costs. We remain disciplined and will continue to invest in long-term growth opportunities, including our expanding battery storage pipeline.”
First Quarter 2021 Results
Total module shipments in the first quarter of 2021 were 3,139 MW, a 42% yoy increase and 5% quarter-over-quarter (“qoq”) increase. Of the total, 267 MW was shipped to the Company’s own utility-scale solar power projects.
Net revenue in the first quarter of 2021 grew by 32% yoy and 5% qoq to $1,089 million. The sequential increase was driven by higher project sales in Japan and the United States, a higher module average selling price (“ASP”), which was partially offset by lower module shipments recognized as revenues.
Gross profit in the first quarter of 2021 was $195 million, up 38% qoq but down 13% yoy. Gross margin in the first quarter of 2021 was 17.9%, compared to guidance of 16% to 18%, and 13.6% in the fourth quarter of 2020. The sequential gross margin expansion was mainly driven by an increased contribution of high margin project sales and higher module ASP, which was partially offset by higher manufacturing costs.
Total operating expenses in the first quarter of 2021 were $151 million compared to $139 million in the fourth quarter of 2020. The sequential increase was primarily driven by an increase in shipping and handling expenses, partially offset by a decrease in asset impairment expenses.
Non-cash depreciation and amortization charges in the first quarter of 2021 were $62 million, compared to $59 million in the fourth quarter of 2020, and $45 million in the first quarter of 2020.
Net foreign exchange loss in the first quarter of 2021 was $7 million, compared to a net gain of $4 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 and a net loss of $1 million in the first quarter of 2020. The net loss was primarily driven by strength in the U.S. Dollar relative to the Japanese Yen.
Income tax expense in the first quarter of 2021 was $14 million, compared to $2 million of income tax benefit in the fourth quarter of 2020 and $29 million of income tax benefits in the first quarter of 2020. The expense was mainly driven by an increase in pre-tax income from high tax jurisdictions and certain non-deductible items.
Net income attributable to Canadian Solar in the first quarter of 2021 was $23 million, or $0.36 per diluted share, compared to net income of $7 million, or $0.11 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Net cash used by operating activities in the first quarter of 2021 was $83 million, compared to $120 million provided by operating activities in the fourth quarter of 2020. The operating cash outflow was mainly driven by an increase in strategic inventory in key markets such as the U.S. and Europe to reduce the impact of upstream supply chain disruptions.
Total debt in the first quarter of 2021 was $2.28 billion, compared to $2.18 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020. The increase in total debt was mainly driven by increase in non-recourse debt used to finance solar power projects, which increased to $522 million in the first quarter of 2021 from $434 million in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Battery Storage Opportunities
Canadian Solar is one of the early movers in developing and supplying energy storage solutions and projects. The Company has strategically positioned itself in the battery storage market, both in solar plus battery storage, as well as in stand-alone storage opportunities. The rapid growth of the energy storage market is being driven by technology improvements, declining battery storage costs, rising penetration of renewable energy and accelerating retirements of fossil fuel capacity.
Canadian Solar has a competitive advantage given its global leadership in both module manufacturing and solar project development. Both CSI Solar and Global Energy have focused strategically on their respective energy storage businesses:
- Under Global Energy, energy storage project development is now fully integrated within the main solar development teams. Given the segment’s large and growing pipeline, it is positioned to capture utility-scale energy storage projects.
- Under CSI Solar, the battery storage solutions’ team focuses on delivering bankable, end-to-end, integrated battery storage solutions for utility scale, commercial and industrial, as well as residential applications. These systems solutions will be complemented with long term service agreements, including future battery capacity augmentation services.
While there are synergies between the project team and the solutions team, both operate independently and on different sections of the battery storage value chain. The project pipeline for each team should be assessed independently. Please refer to the Global Energy and CSI Solar sections of this document for specific pipeline figures.
Global Energy Segment
Canadian Solar has one of the world’s largest and most geographically diversified utility-scale solar and energy storage project development platforms, with a strong track record of originating, developing, financing and building over 5.7 GWp of solar power plants across six continents. As one of the early movers, the Company has built a leadership position in solar as well as energy storage project development and currently has an aggregate pipeline of nearly 21 GWp and 17 GWh, respectively.