Solyndra Shuts Down, and Woe Is Us

In the iconic satire Network, Howard Beale, the mad anchorman said: “Edward George Ruddy died today! Edward George Ruddy was the chairman of the board of the Union Broadcasting Systems and he died at eleven o’clock this morning of a heart condition, and woe is us! We’re in a lot of trouble!”

Woe is us indeed, and woe to solar, because in today’s political and economic climate any public failure of a publicly-funded solar company will cause a lot of noise and this noise will overwhelm the facts.

These facts are: investment in PV manufacturing and in the market for these technologies creates a lot of jobs. Clean energy from PV is good for the environment and offers energy independence. And, once a solar system is installed, the running costs are minimal. It still costs a hunk of change to install a system of any size, but once the system is in place energy consumers enjoy clean, reliable energy for over 20 years.

But the solar industry and all its stakeholders should mourn a bit today, because Solyndra’s closure is about more than just the company, and it is not just about Department of Energy money. It is about Solyndra, Evergreen, US solar manufacturing, and most important, the jobs lost by Solyndra’s closure. People are out of work in a bad economy, and woe is us. People who believed that they were at the forefront of change are out of work, and woe is us. We are indeed in a lot of trouble, in particular because the federal appetite for spending money on solar is currently at low ebb.

At its heart, this is a story about competition. The U.S. was the leader in solar manufacturing until the mid-1990s when Japan took over, offering government support to its manufacturing and its market. Once the FiT incentive gathered steam in Europe, its manufacturers enjoyed one year as the number one manufacturing region. Meanwhile, China’s government invested — and heavily — in its crystalline manufacturing sector and export market, and in 2009 Chinese manufacturers began aggressively pricing product for share (a common practice, by the way). And now China’s manufacturers control the market. Unfortunately, and also as a result of aggressive pricing, margins have suffered, incentive rates have plunged, and candidly, prices simply cannot go up.

Solyndra’s technology was different. It was not designed to compete in large fields. It was designed to compete on large white roofs. It could not compete with inexpensive crystalline technology that is also higher in conversion efficiency. End of story.

This article was reprinted with permission from ElectroIQ as part of the PennWell Corporation Renewable Energy World Network and may not be reproduced without express written permission from the publisher.

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