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US Solar Energy policies seem misguided as Obama visits Solyndra which looks to be Billion Dollar Failure

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Solyndra has been  the most hyped startup in the crowded Solar Energy field .It is not due to a lack of competition,another thin film player Nanosolar has been in the news with heavyweights like Google,Carlye and EDF backing it.Then there are other startups like eSolar, Brightsource  Energy,Miasole which promise to drastically improve the adoption of solar energy.But Solyndra has been singularly successful in marketing itself as the solar startup to watch out for, filing a prospectus do an IPO in 2010.It has received more than a Billion Dollars in Equity funding from its PE investors and Millions of Dollars in Loan Guarantees from the US government through Department of Energy (DOE).These huge amount of dollars are going to be a huge waste IMHO

Solyndra’s Scale is too Small

Solyndra’s  Capacity will be 85 MW by end 2010 and 500 MW by end 2013 .Compare this to  the Gigawatt scale capacity  being built up by many of the Chinese,European ,Japanese and Taiwanese players in 2010 itself.By 2013 , Solyndra will not even rank in the top 20 of world’s top suppliers . Leading Companies like Trina Solar , First Solar ,LDK will already have a capacity of more than 2 GW by 2011

Solyndra’s capex per Watt is too high

Solyndra’s 500 MW plant will require $1.38 billion to be built according to its S-1 filing .This works out to be more than $2.5/watt ,compare this to $1/watt capex required by First Solar to build a similar plant.Even crystalline solar plants which have much higher efficiency require almost half the capex dollars to build a similar size capacity

Solyndra’s Huge Accumulated Losses

Solyndra has accumulated more than$500 million in deficit making even its Auditor PWC has questioned its survival as a Going Concern

Solyndra’s products are not Cost Competetive

Solyndra’s S-1 filing with the SEC shows that its cost structure is too high compared to the mainstream crystalline solar energy technology.Its costs are also much more than the Cadmium Tellerium (Cd-Te) technology used by solar energy market leader First Solar . Solyndra’s cost per watt is currently more than $4/watt ,compare that to Trina Solar which has a cost per watt of $1.1/watt at much higher efficiencies.It would take a major miracle to reduce this vast cost gap.

US solar energy policies are misguided

Existing US Solar companies with state of the art technology like Evergreen Solar,Energy Conversion Devices and Sunpower are barely surviving due to lack of US govt support while President Obama is visiting a fledgling startup.Evergreen Solar lamented the lack of US govt support as it moved its manufacturing operations lock stock and barrel to China.Sunpower is constructing its next big Fab in Malaysia in partnership with AUO while Energy Conversion Devices is running at 50% utilization .Its questionable why DOE is giving a $535 million loan to Solyndra and not to these companies with proven technologies and plants.Note China is giving huge subsidies to its solar companies in the form of billion dollar credit lines,electricity subsidies and even taking equity stakes.These incentives have made the China capture 50% of the world market from less than 5% in 2005.US needs to show similar commitment to its solar companies to regain its lost leadership in the clean energy race.


Sneha Shah

I am Sneha, the Editor-in-chief for the Blog. We would be glad to receive suggestions, inputs & comments on GWI from you guys to keep it going! You can contact me for consultancy/trade inquires by writing an email to

17 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. anon

    Solyndra’s scale is too small – huh? That is the point behind supporting innovation. Google was once 30 people, and was once 20 people, and was once 100 people, etc.

    Your $/watt calcs – do they include installation? The innovation at Solyndra has to do with low installation/ease of installation costs, so any calc that analyzes their utility should take that into account. They are not supposed to be competitive on a $/watt basis just looking at the panels. Note that installation costs often make barely-tolerable installations become intolerable.

    Overall, the jury is still out. They may win in the older-building category (where the roofs are more sensitive to installation penetration) and not in the new-construction area. That would be fine, every company has a niche.

  2. Abhishek Shah

    With a Billion Dollars in Funding,I bet there are ton of firms in the US that could have done better.Evergreen Solar,ENER are all fighting to survive as they have not be the recipient of hundreds of millions in private and public funding.Solyndra has precious little to show for this .If their installation costs are so low why are they finding it so difficult to IPO? or ship more panels? or have to reduce their capacity expansion?

  3. anon

    I don’t disagree that the money could have been given 1/4th to the top 4 thin film companies with less than 50 employees or something like that if the goal was to spur solar cell innovation.

    We’ll know if 3 – 4 years if they are doing well! Tough to tell anything given the economy.

    2009 revenue was 100M, can you find 2010 revenue? I can’t, its march, so should be available sometime soon or may be already available.

    They may be the best thin-film cell when placed on white roofs taking into account installation costs and yearly energy production. They can benefit more from the sun at different angles than flat panels with no axis tracking (pretty rare these days on rooftops), so I find it strange that they don’t have a ’10-year total costs comparison’ to either another thin film producer or a silicon cell. I looked for such a document.

    That report is what we really need to see how they compare in the market… They may very well have it, but only show it to potential customers who have budget for a project.