Some clouds appear over sunny solar forecast

By Jack Keough

Less than two weeks, ago reported the results of a new study by the Solar Energy Industries Association showing that 2012 was a historic and busy year for the U.S. solar energy industry. This was all good news for electrical distributors.

The study said, “Photovoltaic (PV) installations grew 76% over 2011, to total 3,313 megawatts (MW) in 2012, with an estimated market value of $11.5 billion. Each market segment, residential, non-residential, and utility), showed growth over 2011, while the overall markets in most states expanded as well. Installed prices for PV systems fell 27% during 2012 and at least 13%.”

But in recent weeks the news has not been good for the solar companies. The world’s largest producer of solar panels in 2011 has declared bankruptcy and there have been layoffs and cutbacks in other firms. Proponents of solar power say this is just due to a correction in the marketplace, that demand is still there but there had been an overproduction of panel producers leading to plummeting prices.

SoloPower, a producer of solar panels that has a manufacturing plant in Portland, Ore. has confirmed that it will cut its workforce as it attempts to restructure operations, according to the Oregonian, an online newspaper. The solar company has been struggling to launch its first production line.

SoloPower, which state business recruiters won over in 2011, already has received a $10 million state energy loan backed in part by Portland funding and a $20 million manufacturing Business Energy Tax Credit that will pay $13.5 million in cash.

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 Oregonian said.

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 news website reported earlier this month. Several high-ranking executives, including the CEO and CFO, have resigned.

SoloPower then-CEO Tim Harris had previously said he expected the company to produce 20 MW, possibly 30 MW, of solar panels per year by the end of 2012 and ship 2 to 5MW of solar panels during the fourth quarter, according to the Oregonian.

The website said SoloPower is reportedly 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, China’s Suntech Power has put its largest subsidiary into bankruptcy. This subsidiary has more than 10,000 employees. The bankruptcy filing was made in Jiangsu Province. for Suntech’s Wuxi subsidiary. Parent company Suntech Power (STP), listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will not file for bankruptcy. But the company’s share price is now trading around 60 cents, down from $50 in 2008, according to a story in the New York Times.


Last week, the company defaulted on a payment of $541 million, and the company’s CEO said he was exploring strategic alternatives. According to state-run news agency Xinhua, the company owes nine creditor banks a total of $1.2 billion as of the end of February. The creditors include the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Bank of China.

Suntech, like many solar companies had been hard hit by tariffs and an overabundance of solar panel companies causing prices to plunge. The U.S. Commerce Department had imposed stiff tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels last year after determining that Chinese solar cell manufacturers were “dumping” their products on the American market below production costs.

Suntech also announced last week it was closing a manufacturing center that assembles solar panels in Goodyear, Ariz., costing 43 workers their jobs.

Two other solar companies, Solyndra and Evergreen, both backed by large government subsidies, have also gone bankrupt in the last few years. Solyndra had received $535 million in federal funds before it declared bankruptcy.

Jack Keough was the editor of Industrial Distribution magazine for more than 26 years. He often speaks at many industry events and seminars. He can be reached at or

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