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Solyndra déjà vu – Solar Thin Film maker SoloPower impoding, renegotiation of Federal Loan

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After Solyndra, it is SoloPower

The bankruptcy of solar thin film company Solyndra was one of the most dramatic debacles in the current solar downturn. The company which had raised over a billion dollars from government and private sources went kaput one fine day. Solyndra was a massive blot in the DOE’s track record of helping innovative cleantech companies with Fed guaranteed loans and grants. This gave the Republican political machine a huge weapon to attack Obama. The government has been on the defensive since that time. Now another solar thin film company SoloPower which makes flexible thin film solar panels, using the same CIGs technology is imploding.

The company has fired workers and is looking to renegotiate the loan. Note older and better CIGs companies such as Miasole and Nanosolar have already shut down as they do not have the firepower to survive the crystalline solar power onslaught. First Solar the big daddy of the solar thin film world has already stopped selling thin film solar panels outside of its own projects. Only big firms like Hanergy, TSMC, Solar Frontier are still pursuing thin film solar technology. Others have simply given up and gone away. The biggest Chinese solar company Trony Solar is mired in an accounting scandal.

South Asian conglomerates like Hanergy have been buying the assets of thin film solar startups on the cheap, as these companies prepare for the next generation of solar technology. CIGs technology has the potential of producing solar modules at a better cost than the current silicon based solar panels. However, companies have to survive the current severe downturn in order to play the next innings. Startups have not got a snowball’s chance in hell of doing that, given the big solar companies are facing extinction. We think Solopower will sell itself soon as it has 0% chance of surviving on its own.

Thin Film Bankruptcies

A large number of thin film companies went bankrupt the last time polysilicon prices fell off a cliff in the post Lehman crisis period in 2008 end. Applied Material the biggest solar equipment company killed off its SunFab Division which has a large customer list. Applied Materials saw the writing on the wall and concentrated its efforts on crystalline silicon equipment buying HCT Shaping and Baccini, to become a billion dollar supplier of solar equipment. A number of weaker hands in solar thin film went out of business. However the prodigious growth in solar demand in 2010 saw large investments being made again. The biggest failure was the DOE and Obama darling CIGs startup Solyndra which already used up a billion dollars with nothing much to write home about. Here is a list of top global thin film companies, who are still surviving. A large number of companies went out of business or got acquired. The main reason being the costs of thin film solar panels still remaining high and efficiencies too low as compared to the mainstream silicon solar panels.

List of the world’s top Thin Film Companies:

1) First Solar – First Solar is the only Solar Thin Film Manufacturer in the world and a benchmark for other thin film companies thinking of making it big. The company was promoted by Wal-Mart promoters and has seen remarkable growth in the last few. This US based company uses Cadmium Tellurium (Cd-Te) Technology and  is the lowest cost panel producer in the world today if you don’t include any penalty for low efficiency. Even if you penalize the Cd-Te Technology for its lower efficiency vis-a-vis the higher efficiency crystalline technology, First Solar is clearly the leader. The company has a roadmap of  reducing the cost to 52c/watt by 2014 and given its track record it seems quite achievable. There is little doubt about First Solar’s ability to survive and flourish due to its massive first mover advantage.

2) Solar Frontier – Solar Frontier is a subsidiary of Showa Shell Sekiyu and is listed on the Japanese Stock Exchange. The Company has big plans for the Solar Energy Market. All its 3 plants are located in Miyazaki in Japan and uses previous plasma plant of Hitachi. Solar Frontier claims 11.5% efficiency for its CIS modules which are expected to go upto 14% by 2014. The Company is spending around $1 Billion in Capex for building the 1 GW capacity implying roughly $1 capex/watt, which is not exactly cheap though not very expensive either.

3) TSMC- StionTSMC recently bought a 21% equity stake in CIGs startup Stion for $50 million.  The partnership will involve TSMC licensing Stion’s technology and doing  joint research on further enhancing the technology. Stion has claimed that it has achieved a >13% efficiency and plans to increase it to 15% in the near future. TSMC has been quietly making further investments to build a large capacity in Taiwan using this technology. It recently bought module making equipment from another Taiwanese company and has also invested a substantial amount in constructing buildings and facilities for the new CIGs fab. TSMC earlier invested in c-Si through an equity stake in Motech.

4) MasdarMasdar PV the Abu Dhabi backed Renewable Energy company is facing problems with it its thin film business, firing top executives at  its German thin film division. It uses SunFab Technology which has been shuttered by Applied Materials. The company ships some thin film modules here and there but is no longer an important player.

5) Saint Gobain- Hyundai – Global Glass Giant Saint Gobain is expanding its presence in the Solar Energy Manufacturing by partnering with Hyundai Heavy Industries to build a CIGs plant in South Korea with a $198 mm investment. The 50:50 JV which will be known as Hyundai Avancis will be situated in South Korea, which is one of the hottest Green Geographies in the world currently.

6) Trony Solar – Trony Solar is the largest Solar Thin Film Producer in China and uses a-Si Technology to producer Solar Panels used mostly in Off-Grid Applications. The company uses its own custom made equipment and manages to get decent margins for its products. The company is curretly mired in an accounting scandal.

Oregon Live

SoloPower, the solar panel maker struggling to launch its first production line in Portland, confirmed Wednesday night that it will cut its workforce as it attempts to restructure operations. A spokesperson for the California-based company declined to discuss further details but said it would issue an announcement soon.

But SoloPower has struggled to ramp up production in Portland, where initial plans outlined a $340 million thin-film solar panel factory that would eventually employ 450 within five years. The first line was originally slated for completion in April 2012. But missed goals forced executives to renegotiate a $197 million federal loan guarantee in January, The Oregonian reported earlier this month.

Now it is looking to sell millions of dollars worth of equipment from its San Jose, Calif., headquarters. An online advertisement lists at least $5 million in surplus equipment from SoloPower. Silicon Valley Disposition, a San Mateo liquidator, is waiting for the final go-ahead from SoloPower, a company representative said.

Meanwhile, former Chief Technology Officer Mustafa Pinarbasi has joined the exodus of top executives in recent weeks, accepting a similar role at another California startup. Reached by phone Wednesday, he said he was in a meeting and unable to comment. The company is ultimately in line to benefit from nearly $58 million in state and local incentives, including tax breaks, a tax credit and loans. A second $10 million state loan is currently stalled.


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

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