The bankruptcy of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra should not be used as an excuse to pull government support from a thriving US solar sector, according to solar executives.
“A lot of people are saying a lot of things about solar,” said Arno Harris, CEO of San Francisco-based developer Recurrent Energy. “Most of it is wrong.”
About 30GW of solar capacity is in late-stage development in the US, and Recurrent alone has 2.4GW worth about $8 billion in investment in its pipeline, he said. About 100,000 people work in the US solar sector, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
“The important point is to look beyond the failure of one company,” Harris said.
The Solyndra bankruptcy has been interpreted by some as the failure of government to pick winners, as the company was backed by a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Prior to its bankruptcy filing on 6 September, Solyndra employed more than 1,100 full-time and temporary employees. It sold more than 500,000 solar panels since 2008, with cumulative sales of more than $250 million.
“Frankly, it’s disappointing when any plant closes and workers lose jobs,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s director of policy and research and general counsel in Washington, DC. “The fact is that Solyndra had a highly innovative, high-efficiency product, but faced pressure from cheaper solar panels with prices that declined much faster than anyone in the industry expected.”
Solyndra caput once polysilicon prices dropped
Polysilicon prices were very high back in 2008, giving the company what appeared to be a competitive advantage because its technology did not use the material, he said. However, polysilicon production expanded rapidly to meet global demand for solar energy, causing spot prices to fall by nearly 90%. The company’s panels suddenly faced unanticipated pressure from much cheaper silicon panels and simply could not compete, Kimbis noted.
“Solyndra is really an exception rather than the rule,” he said. “The real solar story is quite compelling.”
Solyndra represented less than one fifth of 1% of the total number of solar panels produced, noted David Hochschild, vice-president, external relations for solar manufacturer Solaria in Fremont, California. But the Solyndra situation has affected other companies such as SolarCity, which was informed by the DOE that it could not finalise its loan guarantee prior to Friday’s deadline under the Section 1705 programme, he said. He called the project, which would install solar panels on military housing across the US, a “terrific idea” based on a mature technology that could be implemented at a lower cost.
Although some people are having “crazy, knee-jerk reactions”, polling and focus groups are showing that the public is not falling for arguments that the Solyndra bankruptcy is a sign that the US should pull back its support for clean energy, said Danny Kennedy, president of solar rooftop installer Sungevity Solar Home Specialists in Oakland, California.
“Nobody believes the solar industry is falling over because one solar company that did less than two-tenths of 1% went bankrupt,” he said.
By. Gloria Gonzalez