California — There’s a saying in Journalism: “When your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”
So when a company in trouble reports that things are going fine, some skepticism is in order.
In the last year, there have been numerous stories about CIGS thin-film manufacturer Solyndra’s troubles – a pulled IPO, a restructuring of the executive team, and, most troubling, the high cost of module production. (In an S-1 filing a year ago, the company said its average sales price was over $3.20 a watt, about 65% more than leading crystalline-silicon PV manufacturers. Its cost of manufacturing was over $6 a watt).
Solyndra manufactures cylindrical copper-indium-gallium-deselinide thin-film solar panels that are designed to be installed on white, flat roofs. The company has attracted more than a billion dollars from private investors and the U.S. government. However, major cost and price declines in the crystalline PV sector have hurt the competitive chances of Solyndra’s modules.
This week brought another piece of bad news about the company, as reported by the New York Times. Due to intense pressure from Chinese manufacturers, Solyndra said it would close one of its California-based factories, delay expansion of its newest facility, lay off 40 full-time and 150 contracted employees and cut production in half. The company was planning on having over 600 MW of capacity online by 2013. Now Solyndra says it will have around 300 MW of capacity.
The news has sparked interest outside of the solar community, as some skeptics are questioning the U.S. government’s decision to issue a $535 million loan guarantee to the company.
We spoke with Mike Grunow, the senior VP of Marketing for Solyndra, at the Solar Power International conference last month about these problems. He admitted to a lot of the cost issues, but said it’s an “exciting time” to be working at Solyndra.
Perhaps handling a firestorm of criticism is what he meant by “exciting.”
Grunow said the company has a clear roadmap toward reducing panel costs to $1.30 per watt and all-in system cost of $2 per watt by 2012. A recent decision by the IRS to allow building owners to qualify for a 30% tax credit for installing a white roof (which is an integral part of Solyndra’s design), has also made the company’s systems look a bit better.
But the drum beat of positive spin coming out of the company doesn’t always match up the reality on the ground. This latest factory closing is a sign that Solyndra is trying to cut costs anyway it can to stay competitive.
The interview with Solyndra’s Grunow is below. In the conversation, we talk about how the cylindrical system works, how much it costs, and why the company believes it brings value to the industry.
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