Investors will not shy away from the clean-tech sector because of the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, according to an executive from the Cleantech Group.
“Nobody is running for the exits just because of Solyndra,” Greg Neichin, vice-president of research and advisory at the Cleantech Group, told attendees of the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference in Miami on Wednesday. “I think people kind of knew it was a problem.”
Clean-tech investors were not surprised by the company’s troubles, he said. If 10 investors were polled at the time that the Department of Energy (DOE) guaranteed a $535 million loan to Solyndra, eight would likely have said that the loan guarantee was not a good idea and that they were unsure about the company and its cost competitiveness, Neichin claimed.
“There was certainly a lot of backroom discussions and chatter at the time that this was a risky bet,” he said. “I think we worried about exactly this, basically that the company would have a rough time and it would be used as political fodder.”
Solyndra was a risky business, just like a lot of technology companies, Neichin said.
“They were in fierce competition with Chinese suppliers,” he added. “Solyndra just lost. That’s just part of the game.”
But the Solyndra loan guarantee represents only 3.4% of the DOE’s solar portfolio, Neichin noted.
Solyndra is an example of a “loan guarantee gone bad”, but the programme is helping large companies build plants and factories, he said.
“Government support is clearly important to the sector,” Neichin said. “I think the stimulus here in the states was obviously the big clean-tech bonanza for 18 months.”
The Section 1705 loan guarantee programme that provided the Solyndra guarantee expired last month and is unlikely to be extended amid the Solyndra controversy.
“The political climate here certainly has been non-conducive to selling clean-tech,” he added. “The Obama administration and the DOE clearly have done a ton to support the industry and support the technology. They are trying very hard. The [Environmental Protection Agency] is trying hard to implement a variety of regulations that directly catalyze markets. The political gridlock in this country certainly has not been good for the market.”
Loan guarantees are helpful in the building of some large solar plants and wind farms, but “I don’t think that they’re absolutely essential,” Neichin said. “In the absence of loan guarantees, is the market going to stop? No.”
There is concern among clean-tech investors and entrepreneurs about some pullback in the sector, but interesting companies with a track record will get financing, he said.
Solar companies received $350 million in investments across 33 deals, the most transactions of any clean-tech sector in the third quarter of 2011, according to the most recent Cleantech Group report.
“Solar is still strong despite the Solyndra setback,” Neichin said.
By. Gloria Gonzalez