Solyndra To File for Bankruptcy; 1,100 Lose Jobs

Fremont-Calif.-based Solyndra, which in 2009 received a $535 million federal loan guarantee, announced Wednesday that it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and immediately lay off 1,100 full-time and temporary employees.

“The success of the solar industry cannot be viewed through the lens of one company,” said Resch in a written comment. “Like all industries, some companies will fare differently than others. While the closure of Solyndra’s operations is disappointing, the solar industry as a whole is a bright spot in the U.S. economy.”

The company had downsized its planned growth starting in 2010 when the CIGS thin-film manufacturer pulled an IPO, restructured its executive team, and announced plans to close one of its California plants and delay expansion of its newest facility.

According to its website, Solyndra was in the process of ramping up to 300 MW at its California facility. In 2010, the company completed more than 1,000 installations across the world. It may now look to sell its business and licensing of its advanced CIGS technology.

The company received much fanfare for its innovative rooftop technology and big ambitions. It was held up as an example of a company thriving behind American technology and manufacturing during visits by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and President Obama.

According to a company press release, Solyndra saw strong growth in the first half of 2011 and secured a number of orders for very large commercial rooftops in North America. Officials said the company could not “achieve full-scale operations rapidly enough to compete in the near term with the resources of larger foreign manufacturers.” The company went on to say a global oversupply of solar panels, falling prices and uncertainty in traditional markets such as Europe led to its decision to exit the solar business.

The news out of California ends what has proven to be a tough month for solar manufacturers in America. U.S.-based Evergreen Solar, also a recipient of strong government backing, filed for bankruptcy and shut down U.S. manufacturing while Germany-based Solon decided to close its American manufacturing operations in favor of focusing on its role as a developer. In both instances, competition from China was cited as a factor in the moves.

According to SEIA, the U.S. solar industry employs more than 100,000 workers at more than 5,500 companies. The trade organization also pointed to a recent report that found the U.S. was a net exporter of $1.9 billion worth of solar energy products in 2010.

“In the last 18 months, solar companies have either added or expanded almost 60 factories in the U.S. and driven the installed cost of solar down by 30 percent,” said Resch. 

Though more than 1,000 jobs were lost due to Wednesday’s announcement, Krop says a strong solar presence can lead to stable gains in employment. They’ll be in construction, however, and not likely in manufacturing. Predictable subsidies, said Krop, will lead to more development, which will then create a strong construction base.

Before we get to that point, said Krop, we’ll have to get through industry shake-ups, such as the Solyndra bankruptcy.

“It’s going to be such a high-profile event,” said Krop. “You will have naysayers point to it, saying it’s too expensive of a technology. In the end, it’s about getting solar on your rooftops and into your communities in a cost-effective manner.” 

Westinghouse Solar’s Barry Cinnamon has further commentary on the announcement here, and Arno Harris of Recurrent Energy commented here

Below is a video interview with a Solyndra official recorded last year at SPI.

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