The Solyndra Saga

 

Copyright Chang Liu, 2011

Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

 

Table of Contents

 

The Solyndra Saga – Forward.

The Solyndra Sage – Fundamentals.

The Solyndra Saga – Technology.

The Solyndra Saga – Founder

The Solyndra Saga – Solar Business.

The Solyndra Saga – Politics.

The Solyndra Sage – Timeline.

The Solyndra Saga - References:

The Solyndra Saga – Conclusions.

 

 

The Solyndra Saga – Forward

 

Solyndra was a manufacturer of specialized solar voltaic (PV) panel. It designed, manufactured and sold solar panels made from assembling cylindrical photovoltaic tubes.  Their name – Solyndra – seems a clever combination of “solar” and “cylinder”.  Their business focus was for covering large flat commercial rooftops. The company develops advanced technology – as such, it is not funded by banks due to their high risk. It was instead funded by private individuals, venture capital (VC) companies, and the US Government. The company was founded in 2005 by Dr. Christian Gronet, a Ph.D. degree holder in materials and semiconductor processes.  The company received government backing (both in terms of cash loan and public exposure associated with Prisident Obama’s personal visit).  The company has revenues of $100-140 Million in 2009 and 2010 (according to Solyndra wikipedia entry and various other sources), and was said to have $1B orders on the books (according to company management).  However, the company filed for bankruptcy in September 2011, promoting congressional finger pointing of potential political influence.  

 

Figure 1: Roof top installation of Solyndra photovoltaic cells.

Figure 2: Close up view of Solyndra rooftop solar panels.

Figure 3: Solyndra solar voltaic cylinders.

Figure 4: Photo of an individual Solyndra cell.

Figure 5: Schematic diagram of Solyndra photovoltaic cylinder.

 

Solyndra attempted a risky play in a somewhat established and highly competitive field. It is unique and risky because of three facts:

  1. Its cylinders deviates from the flat panel solar panel form factor;
  2. The company focuses exclusively on large area roof top applications;
  3. The company attempts to make and assemble solar devices in America, not China.

 

Was Solyndra’s approach risky? Was it too risky? Was the government right in backing the company? Let’s evaluate the company’s rise and fall through the lenses of technology, business and politics in the next few postings. (A review of the world Solar PV market in 2011 can be found here).

The Solyndra Saga – Fundamentals

(back to start

Copyright Chang Liu, 2011

Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

 

Why solar electric power generation is critical?

 

Energy is what it takes to sustain life and produce force/work, whereas power is the measure of energy per unit time.  Simply put, energy is power multiplied by time. The most common unit for power is Watt, whereas the unit of energy is watt.hour. Since a Watt is rather small (imaging how bright a 1 watt light bulb would be), people commonly use the unit of kilo.watt.hour (or kWh) for measuring consumption of electrical energy.

 

How much energy does the earth needs? The ultimate need of energy is to sustain all human lives.  Energy is needed to keep cells in bodies alive, period. There are seven billion people on earth. The absolute low range estimate of energy consumption is 1.15E13Wh for a day. (This would be true if everyone on earth goes fasting together).

 

How much energy does the earth receive or produce? Ultimately, humans only have two forms of energy – oil and sun.  All other so called “renewable” sources of energy, like wind, water, food, trees, is a secondary form of energy derived from the sun power.  The earth itself actually does not produce energy – what we consider as renewable energy such as hydraulic and wind energies are actually solar energy.

 

If the total human energy were directly converted from petroleum without ANYLOSE, the earth needs 6700 thousand barrels of oil per day.  However, losses are inevitable, and energies are needed for manufacturing and transportation – activities not directly linked to sustaining cell lives. (Today, humans unearth and trade at least eight five million barrels of oils per day, at least ten times more than the 6700 thousand barrel figure.) 

 

Now what about the sun? The sun delivers 2.9E18Wh energy to the earth each day. This sounds like a lot (at least 10000 times greater than the total human needs).  However, the part of solar energy that humans can harness into electricity, our FAVORITE form of energy, is very little.  At the end of 2010, humans produce 1E+9Wh of electrical power from solar energy everyday, but consumes 5.5E+13Wh of electrical power per day. (Out of the total, 92% are from coal, fuel, and nuclear, and only 7% from hydropower). This shows the world’s enormous appetite for electricity and our small capacity to produce them from the sun.  Most electrical power is produced by burning petroleum or coal, and through hydroelectric plants.

 

The earth petroleum reserve is at best uncertain. It may last for 100 years, it may last for 10 years. What is certain is that it will not last forever.  People may worry about global warming today, but global warming is a minor inconvenience compared to total oil depletion. Humans must develop photovoltaic technology and production capacity before oil runs out – or the consequences are dire. Developing photovoltaic soon is not an environmental statement, not a political statement, but a human survival statement.

 

IF PETROLUM were to run out today, the earth can only count on 1E+9Wh of electricity power per day directly from the sun.  We can also count on hydroelectric and nuclear power generation of course (however, keep in mind the damages to environment with dams and nuclear fuel).  That is only 1/4 of what humans need today!  Hence the importance of developing solar energy.  However, it takes money, energy , political resolve, and economy power to ramp up the solar energy production capacity of the earth, such that solar voltaics can one day make up the differences.

 

Semiconductor photo-voltaic solar generator

 

Now, let’s talk about how to turn solar energy into electric energy. This is what Solyndra is about.

 

There are various ways to turn energy into useful energy. One can use the sun to heat up water and use the hot water for bathing and sanitary purposes. However, it takes more complex systems to turn energy into electricity, a more useful form of energy. One can use solar power to heat up water, cause vaporization, and then use the vapor power to turn turbines of generators. However, such a method of power generation ties solar power and the abundant availability of water together. In many parts of the earth the scarcity of water is actually a problem.

 

Einstein discovered that light is actually a particle with finite packet of energy embedded in it. He is argurably the father of photovoltaic effects. Light striking a material with an energy bandgap (eg, a crystal) can cause electrons to be generated, and subsequently, collected.  This special material that possesses an energy bandgap is typically a semiconductor material. For the most part of technology development, people agree that the best photovoltaic material is silicon, the most abundant material on earth. Silicon is not affected by the presence of water or moistures. Silicon exists in many forms, including single crystal silicon, polycrystal silicon (or polysilicon), and amorphous silicon. The best way for a layperson to think about the differences is in the framework of carbon, a neighbor of silicon on the periodic table.  Soot and charcoal is monocrystalline carbon. Diamond is single crystal carbon. Polycrystalline carbon would be some low quality stone in between, like a bunch of small diamond particles meshed together.  It is easy to understand that single crystalline silicon is the most expensive, the polycrystalline silicon is cheaper, and amorphous silicon is of the lowest cost. 

 

Silicon received attention after the 1947 invention of silicon transistors and the 1953 invention of planar integrated circuits. Overall, the solar voltaic field has focused on silicon, a cheap material made out of sand (albeit following a high energy consumption process).  Although it can be argued that photovoltaic devices were invented in America, Americans are not winning the competition, or at least appears to be not interested. Europe and China has played photovoltaic commercialization with very strong government support.  China Suntech Power (New York stock exchange listed, NYSE: STP) claim to have more than 1800 MW of production capacity by 2010.  The cost of electricity generated from solar power has been reducing dramatically reduced, from US$6 per watt in 2001, the year of Suntech's founding, to the current price of US$1.6 per watt.

 

Unfortunaly for photovoltaic developers everywhere, single crystalline silicon is the best solar-energy-collector. It has a solar-to-electrical conversion efficiency of approximately 24-25%. (A common question that a lay person thinks is that there is still 75% more to go to make a “perfect” solar cell with 100% conversion efficiency. Well, that is actually not true. According to the Shockley-Quiesser limit theory, the limit places maximum solar conversion efficiency around 33.7% assuming a single p-n junction with a band gap of 1.1 eV, typical for silicon). Polycrystalline silicon has an efficiency of approximately 13-15%. The amorphous silicon’s energy conversion efficiency is too low to mention.

 

Considering the cost and performance, polycrystalline silicon is the best choice. The price of raw polycrystalline material is therefore important for the final price of polycrystalline silicon solar cells. This is where the Solyndra story gets interesting.

 

Whatever form of silicon is used, there must be significant thickness covering a solar panel surface. Otherwise, solar energy would pass through the material uncollected (i.e., the silicon is “transparent” to the light). 

The Solyndra Saga – Technology

(back to start

Copyright Chang Liu, 2011

Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

 

 

The Solyndra technology is heavily relied upon two distinct features – one being the material and one being the form factor.

 

The material that Solyndra uses is copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) thin film. CIGS is very different from silicon.  First, it consists of multiple elements mixed together. Second, the material is direct bandgap, as opposed to indirect bandgap material such as silicon.  Direct bandgap increases efficiency. The best efficiency achieved as of December 2005 was 19.5% (for a flat panel).  However, CIGS can potentially increase efficiency at the cost of complex materials.

 

The material is harder to deposit on the solar panel surface than polysilicon.  Commonly used method include multi-source co-sputtering (which required high vacuum and expensive equipment), electroplating followed by sintering, or other emerging techniques. In the case of vacuum sputtering, the cost and process time is unbearable for large scale, high throughput panel production. The CIGS related material is still more expensive than polysilicon in terms of equipment and expertise.

 

Each Solyndra cylinder is 1 inch in diameter. It is made of two tubes. The CIGS material is deposited on the outside of the inner tube. Each tube is hermetically sealed in vacuum to prevent the CIGS material from reacting with atmosphere or moisture. The vacuum sealing is perhaps not a big problem, as it is used widely for making lamps. The cylinders are arranged in a way that each 1 by 2 meter panel consists of 40 cylinders. 

 

Solyndra claims that the technology allows light from all directions to be collected – direct, indirect, reflective. The company claims that the technology works better on white colored roofs (reflective) than dark colored roofs. However, such description is only meant to convince unprepared mind. 

 

Figure 6: Wind can blow through Solyndra panel whereas traditional flat solar panels would experience severe drag.

 

For rooftop applications, the devices will be exposed to natural elements including sun, high temperature, rain, strong wind, and snow fall. Large wind could blow the panels off the ground, if they are not anchored properly. The Solyndra panels are arranged in a grid, allowing wind, rain and snow to go through. The company claim that such would require less rigid mounting.

 

How much power can the Solyndra panels produce? This is an open question. According to Solyndra technical specification, each solar panel has a dimension of 1.82 m x 1.08 m x 0.05 m. The SL-001-191 model can generate 191 Watt under irradiance of 1000 W/m2, air mass 1.5, and cell temperature 25° C. It seems that for a household with 100 sq. meter rooftop, the system can generate approximately 10000 Watt at the peak, and perhaps 100kWh or electricity (assuming there are 10 hours of sun shine for a day). This is not shabby. (However, note that 1000 W/m2 seems to correspond to regions such as Phoenix, Arizona, definitely not Chicago, Illinois.  It is a high-end number for most of United States).

 

Solyndra claims their systems offer a number of technical uniqueness and advantages. In traditional solar panels, the only light present is direct light. To improve efficiency, solar panels use mechanical power to “follow the sun”.  Solyndra’s claim of absorbing direct, indirect and reflective light seems like a circular argument.  Had they use a flat panel, there would not be any indirect and reflective light to consider anyways. The claim of eliminating the need for following the sun is arguable. 

 

Dr. Gronet is a smart person, and the VCs backing him (or chose not to back him then) are also smart people.  The right question is why did they make such claims?  The obvious answer must be that this is the best way to go, not necessarily a good way to go.

 

Solyndra’s key patents were filed by the Founder, Chris , back in October 11, 2005 (and approved July 2008).

 

 

Figure 7: Solyndra's first issued patent.

 

Figure 8: The first technical claim of Solyndra's first patent.

 

It is questionable whether Solyndra can claim superiority on the efficiency front. Solyndra claims that the light conversion efficiency is 12-14%, when the cells are laid flat. (It is expected that the efficiency would be significantly lower for cells laid on a curved surface, since portions of the cell received light at an angle).  The 12-14% figure would compare favorably with the best polycrystalline silicon flat panel technology at China’s Suntech. However, Suntech uses flat panel that is much easier to produce and store.

 

Solyndra never mention the overall light collection efficiency due to the curved cell. People who have taken the pain to estimate think the efficiency is around 8.5%. This number is rather low.  

 

Solyndra is not the only company that is interested in rooftop installation. China Suntech has installed many rooftop solar panels. For the Shanghai World Expo, the Suntech company installed 30000 sq. meter rooftop capable of generating 3 MW of power. 

The Solyndra Saga – Founder

(back to start

Copyright Chang Liu, 2011

Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

The Solyndra company is the ambition of Christian Gronet, a Ph.D. degree holder from Stanford University.  He pursued his Ph.D. degree at Stanford University.  Chris earned a B.S. in Materials Science and a Ph.D. in Semiconductor Processing from Stanford University.  He appears to be a prolific graduate student. For example, in 1982, he coauthored a paper titled “Design of a 13% efficient n-GaAs1−xPx semiconductor–liquid junction solar cell” with Nathan Lewis, published in Nature. (Nature 300, 733 - 735 (23 December 1982); doi:10.1038/300733a0).  This and other papers establishes the fact that he is a qualified scientific researcher. (In fact, Gronet appears to have multiple joint publications with Nathan Lewis, a professor at Stanford until 1988).

Chris co-founded G-Squared Semiconductor in 1988, a company which invented and developed enabling technology for Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP) of silicon wafers for manufacturing integrated circuits. G-Squared Semiconductor was acquired by Applied Materials in 1991, and Chris became General Manager of the RTP Product Group — which eventually grew into the Transistor and Capacitor Group by the year 2000 — reaching more than $1 billion in revenue. In 2002, Chris left Applied Materials and became a private investor.

Applied Materials is a world-leading manufacturer of semiconductor processing equipment. The company makes equipments for various industries, such as chip industry, solar industry, and display industry.

He joined the U.S. Venture Partners as an entrepreneur-in-residence in 2005.  On U.S.V.P’s website, you can find the following sentences:“ His intention is to be a CEO of a high-growth technology business. When that happens, his residency will no doubt help him better manage his company's funding and venture relationships. “.

The Founder assembled a team of directors.  Here is a list of directors of Solyndra. It has been observed that the directors are mostly from investment firms. No one from electrical utilities, manufacturing and distribution are present on the board.

Christian Gronet, Founder and Chairman
Brian Harrison, Chief Executive Officer, President and Director
John Walecka, Redpoint Ventures
Thomas Baruch, CMEA Capital
Dan Maydan Ph.D,  Silicon Ventures LLC
Winston Fu Ph.D,  U.S. Venture Partners
David Prend,  RockPort Capital Partners
Alex O'Cinneide,  Masdar Venture Capital
Anup Jacob, Virgin Green Fund
Jameson McJunkin M.B.A.,  Cisco Systems
James Gibbons Ph.D,  Cisco Systems
Edward Barnholt, KLA-Tencor Corporation
Steven Mitchell,  Argonaut Private Equity
Raymond Sims CPA, Financial Engines

Figure 9: Solyndra founder Chris Gronet, holding a solar panel with Barack Obama.

The Solyndra Saga – Solar Business

(back to start

Copyright Chang Liu, 2011

Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

 

Photovoltaic is a device that can turn sun power (photon) into electrical power (electricity). This is a hard business, involving both material, manufacturing, labor, and cash. In many cases, because the petroleum is flowing freely from underneath the ground, few people see the need to invest so heavily in a technology that is still immature. As a result, many solar business, while being high risk, can not generate revenue. They must rely on government subsides (such as ones provided by the German government).

 

The solar business has a long supply chain. The chain include materials provider, wafer manufacturer, equipment manufacturer, solar cell assembly companies, reseller, installer, electric companies, and eventually the government. It is a complex business that requires a lot of capital investment, energy, and risk taking.

 

The German and Spanish government provided generous subsidies for the green and renewable energy sector, starting in 1999.  According to a report titled “Renewable energy sources in figures – national and international development” published by the German ministry for the Environment, Natural Conservation and Nuclear Safety in 2004,

 

The Federal Government consistently exploits the potential for rational, economical use of energy and for improving energy efficiency. Pivotal to this is the ecological tax reform introduced in 1999, as well as the measures included in the climate protection programme of October 2000. These include the Energy Saving Ordinance, the Combined Heating and Power Generation Act, as well as measures in the field of energy consumption labelling. Funding for the building renovation programme launched in 2001 to cut CO2 emissions was almost doubled in May 2003, using funds generated by the ecological tax reform. An additional 160 million euros per annum is now available, bringing the total available until 2005 to around 360 million euros per annum.  From 2005 onwards, it is expected that emissions trading for industrial plants will enable German industry to attain its climate protection targets even more cost-effectively and efficiently than before.

 

The business of smart grid is one of the key drivers for solar panel manufacturers. A smart grid is an electric distribution system where a customer with solar panels can INPUT energy into the grid rather than just CONSUME energy. Simply put, the smart grid is a technical tool for people with excessive solar power to not only save money, but to make money. California launched smart grid initiatives back in 2006, after several years of talking back and forth.  It is believed that the smart grid initiative can benefit business of companies such as Solyndra.

 

However, the smart grid initiative runs into many snags. One popular feature of the smart grid allows customers to pay different prices based on the time of energy use. It is supposed to save money for customers, but in many cases end up costing electricity customers more money.  There is strong backlash against the smart grid initiatives from grassroot efforts.

 

The business of making polysilicon is dominated by large industrial layers.  The process of making polysilicon from raw materials to wafers consists of several steps as shown below. However, invariably the process requires melting of solid silicon using furnaces. This is very energy intensive. Interestingly, the United States is actually home to companies that provide raw polysilicon wafers. One example is MEMC Electronics Materials Corporation (NYSE symbol:WFR). The process of making silicon wafer is very power hungry – it is actually the United States that has an advantage in making such wafers because the easy availability of low cost energy in the country.

 

Figure 10: Polysilicon wafer manufacturing process according to MEMC Corporation. Source link.

Figure 11: Price of polysilicon. Source link. 

 

Figure 12: The polysilicon price roller coaster. Source Link.

 

The solar business undoubtedly have unlimited potential. Any calculation of how much revenue the company could collect in the end is essential meaningless. The sky is the limit. Major investors include:

-         George Kaiser family foundation;

-         U.S. Ventue Partners (for which Grotner briefly worked for as a entrepreneurer-in-residence)

-         CMEA Ventures;

-         Redpoint Ventures;

-         Virgin Green Fund,

-         Madrone Capital Partners (tied to Walton family)

-         RockPort Capital Partners;

-         Argonaut Private Equity (tied with the Kaiser family);

-         Masdar capital

-    Artis Capital Management.

Details of Solyndra customers and investment breakdown can be found in this appendix hereUnfortunately for Solyndra, the competition comes from not only domestically, but also from China. In China, the solar business is big business. Chinese companies have important advantages that the US companies do not have, for example:

-         the Chinese government provide huge amount of subsides to help domestic industry grow (more than $30 B);

-         the Chinese companies also receive important “hidden subsidies” in the form of lower cost labor, sometimes free land, and really cheap constructions of buildings.

 

Otherwise, the Chinese companies are competing on a level field with Solyndra. They are both subjected to world economic forces (subscidy policy in Europe, technology such as raw materials and material processing).  It is believed that Chinese companies use imported equipment and raw materials to make solar panels. Hence the advantage of Chinese companies is not limitless. In fact, most of the Chinese companies are suffering along with Solyndra when the polysilicon price crashes, when the production is overly abundant, and when key European countries stops government subsides.

 

The Solyndra Saga – Politics

(back to start)  

Copyright Chang Liu, 2011

Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

 

Energy issue is so important that it becomes political. In the United States, a country with highly advanced science education and technological development, the topic of renewable energy is actually not universally accepted. (Even the topic of global warming is still being “hotly” debated).  The Democratic Party, being more proactive than the Republican party, generally produces candidates who are favorable to renewable energy.

 

The idea of putting solar panels on roofs is not new. Democratic president Jimmy Carter placed solar panels on the roofs of the White House, only to be removed by his successors, President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan’s position on renewable energy and energy science is pretty well known.  According to a Scientific American article, 

 

Figure 13: Two successive US presidents, Carter and Reagan, have totally different perspective on the energy problem.

 

By 1986, the Reagan administration had gutted the research and development budgets for renewable energy at the then-fledgling U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and eliminated tax breaks for the deployment of wind turbines and solar technologies—recommitting the nation to reliance on cheap but polluting fossil fuels, often from foreign suppliers. "The Department of Energy has a multibillion-dollar budget, in excess of $10 billion," Reagan said during an election debate with Carter, justifying his opposition to the latter's energy policies. "It hasn't produced a quart of oil or a lump of coal or anything else in the line of energy."

 

It is no surprising that President Barack Obama, being a highly educated individual and a former faculty member at the University of Chicago, is favorable to the renewable energy agenda. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, in fact never openly bashed renewable energy. In fact, he famously stated that "American has an oil addiction problem". However, his government did reject the terms of Kyoto Protocol. The Department of Energy was directed by President Bush to start a US renewable energy business.  However, Bush, being a former Texas oil executive, was very reluctant to stop the oil revenue, for consideration of national economy and for business interests. Bush famously backed out of the Kyoto Global Agreement. 

 

It is fair to say that Obama is more of a proactive flag bearer for the renewable energy cause, not for the sake of being “green” and “cool”, but for the sake of maintaining long-term future advantage for the United States. President Bush is more of a reactive leader in the aspect of renewable energy.

The Solyndra Sage – Timeline

(back to start

Copyright Chang Liu, 2011

Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

 

The Solyndra Saga - References:

(back to startCopyright Chang Liu, 2011, Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

Goldman Sachs played a key role in Solyndra's early rise 

http://www.technologyreview.com/article/39356/?mod=MagOur

http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/21473/

The Solyndra Saga – Conclusions

(back to startCopyright Chang Liu, 2011

Written for MEMSCentral.com, InnovationIQ, and DRChang Daily Post.

The Solyndra company embodies the spirit of silicon valley and American innovation. It is based on hard science and exciting new technology. The business plan is not entirely flawless, but the founding team and investors should be applauded for their determination and business sense.

If anything, the case of Solyndra shows the risks of technological innovation – just having ideas is not enough. Timing, patents, management, investment, and luck must be on your side to be successful. However, there is no other way to know if such elements are present but to try.

However, many elements must align in order for an innovation to succeed.  In the case of Solyndra, it is proven that business is very complex. Had the polysilicon price not drop suddenly, Solyndra’s fate may be different. However, it is not known whether the end result would be reversed. Perhaps the success or failure is in the patents and business approach from day one. The good news for Americans is that Solyndra is the right response to a call for global competition in the solar field. However, the American company has already lost important patent advantage and has to use novelty ideas to compete, which adds to the risks. Solyndra's failure is also a representation of missed timing.

Here are a few questions for readers to reflect upon:

1.      Name major competitors in the polysilicon material provider.

2.      Name the major justification for Germany to reduce the solar subsidy.

3.      Name other US based solar panel manufacturers and distributors.

I hope you have all enjoyed reading this.  Please keep track with us to receive updates on the story.

 

-         Chang Liu, Evanston, IL

-         First edition: December 23, 2011

If you enjoyed reading the contents, you can sign up to receive email notifications about future content updates. Please click here and enter your email address in a form to become a subscriber to the MEMSCENTRAL.com mailing list.  You will receive short email updates in time about latest contents and functions added to http://www.memscnetral.com.  Thank you. 

 

 (back to start


[1] President Bush called in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night for the United States to break its "addiction" to Middle Eastern oil using technological solutions.

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy," Bush told Americans, who are paying more than $2 a gallon for gasoline. "Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."

"The best way to break this addiction is through technology," he said, adding that technological advances will help achieve a "great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

[2] The subsidy for new rooftop solar systems will decline by 16% and drop by 15% for ground-mounted solar parks that are constructed after 1 July. The cuts are lower than the 25% reduction originally proposed by the Environment Ministry.

Feed-in tariffs for solar panels installed on military bases and brownfields will be reduced by 11% while farmland that is converted for solar panels will receive no subsidy as of July, according to the changes.

The German Government says the reductions are needed because the price of solar electric panels has dropped by 40%, resulting in an overcapacity in the German market. It estimates that the reduced feed-in tariffs will reduce costs for electricity by €2 billion while allowing profitable investments in Germany as a result of technological developments and lower costs of production.

[3] (Reuters) - In the weeks leading up to a visit by President Barack Obama to Solyndra on May 25, 2010, the California solar-panel maker was in crisis.

Prices for solar panels were in free-fall and the company's chief executive officer was bickering with customers unhappy with the amount of electricity produced by the cylindrical panels he invented, according to new e-mails released by Republicans investigating the now-bankrupt company.

An initial public offering was on the skids, and finally, there was a "mutiny" by the company's entire executive team, who flagged the crisis to the company's board of directors.

The e-mails between senior advisers to George Kaiser, a major investor in the company, provide the best view yet into how problems took root early at Solyndra.

[4] Polysilicon prices have plunged 94 percent in three years as the top five producers, led by Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. and Wacker Chemie AG (WCH), more than doubled output, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data. Prices may be stuck near the cost of production for years, Paul Leming, director of research at Ticonderoga Securities in New York, said in November.

Global polysilicon production capacity is likely to settle at about 300,000 metric tons, Lepercq said this week. Wacker of Munich, OCI Co. of South Korea, GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. (3800) of China and Renewable Energy Corp. ASA of Norway had the capacity to make 131,000 tons of polysilicon last year, up from 50,000 tons in 2008, Bloomberg data shows.  (Source: CNN)

(back to start

 

An excerpt from Solyndra's IPO Registration: By the Numbers.

 (back to start

Principal Shareholders and Ownership Percentage:

Any event that awakens the solar and greentech IPO markets out of its torpor is welcome. But successful companies need profits or a road to profits. With no mention of Solyndra's panel price per watt and only a rough idea of its factory capex (Fab 2 is 500 megawatts at $1.38 billion = >$2 per watt, which is significantly more that c-Si or CdTe) there is not enough information to predict the success of this venture. It is all about cost in solar these days and Solyndra has not yet divulged that information.