The new year brings continued solar strife

The turning of the new year didn’t make the solar industry any easier for solar manufacturers. Power electronics maker, Satcon Technology, announced Wednesday that it’s laying off 35 percent of its workers and shutting down its factory in Canada.

The tough market for solar in 2011

Companies continue to bow out of the solar market in 2011. This week it’s BP Solar, which is shutting down, as well as Solar Mlillennium, which has filed for insolvency. Last week it was German solar panel company Solon, which also filed for insolvency.

Sungevity brings residential solar overseas

Sungevity, a venture-backed residential solar service provider, is heading overseas. The company announced Thursday that it’s made an equity investment in a new Dutch company and will license its software and provide engineering services to the startup.

India: The Next Hot Solar Market

It’s one thing for a small percentage of wealthy homes in California and New Jersey to get solar panels. It will be another thing entirely for India, with its 1.19 billion population, to make a substantial commitment to solar power.

Vid-Biz: Upfronts, TiVo, Hulu

Broadcast Networks Cut Upfront Ad Prices; estimates peg the decline at 15 to 20 percent off last year, dipping to $7.5 billion, a dollar figure not seen since 2001. (The LA Times)
TiVo Gets Rovi’s Data; DVR service will get access to Rovi’s metadata, which includes info on more than 1 million TV series episodes, 400,000 movie titles and 13 million music tracks. (Multichannel News)
More Online Video Ads vs. Higher Prices, That is the Question; CBS trying to figure out how many ads viewers will tolerate, Hulu just wants to charge more for fewer ads. (BusinessWeek)
Pure Pwnage Going to Canadian TV; web series gets an eight episode order from the Showcase channel. (Tubefilter)
More than Half of Americans Have an HDTV; 53 percent of U.S. households have HDTVs (it was 35 percent in 2008) according to CTAM; 69 percent of those have HDTV service. (Multichannel News)
Sims Creator Looking Beyond Games; Will Wright considers himself an “entertainment designer” and is working on new ideas that go into TV and movies. (The Hollywood Reporter)

Wal-Mart, BP Solar to Build More Solar Rooftops

The biggest retail chain in the world may not be the working man’s best friend, but Wal-Mart Stores (s WMT) is trying to make friends with the planet, picking Earth Day to say that it’s expanding its rooftop solar program along with partner BP Solar. The move could nearly double the number of solar photovoltaic installations at Wal-Mart stores in the U.S., with 10-20 new systems that turn out a total of up to 10 megawatts to go up in addition to the 22 that were originally planned.
First launched back in 2007, the program called for solar panels to be put on the roofs of a distribution center and a combination of 22 Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Clubs, all in Hawaii and California, with the systems coming from BP Solar, SunEdison, and SunPower‘s (s SPWRA) PowerLight subsidiary. Solar panels have already been installed at 18 buildings under that plan, with BP Solar, part of oil giant BP (s BP), handling seven of those installations.
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Another 700+ Solar Jobs Bite the Dust

If the clouds that hovered around the solar sector over the last few months have started to clear, they haven’t moved fast enough to prevent layoffs at two solar giants recently. GE Solar and BP Solar have axed more than 700 jobs.
The deepest cuts are at BP Solar (s BP). The company announced plans yesterday to eliminate 620 jobs (more than a quarter of BP Solar’s workforce), including 480 posts at two cell manufacturing and module assembly plants outside Madrid and another 140 positions at a plant in Frederick, Md. BP will shutter the two Spanish facilities and phase out assembly at the U.S. plant. BP plans to continue with silicon casting, wafering, sizing and cell production at this facility.
General Electric’s (s GE) solar business has cut second and third production shifts and some of its engineers — 86 jobs in all — at its Newark, Del., plant because of what a company spokesperson called “a sudden and dramatic decline” in demand, Gunther Portfolio and PV-Tech report.
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SpectraWatt Suspends Factory Plans, Expects Production Delay

Intel (s INTC) solar spinoff SpectraWatt has put its plans to build a factory in Hillsboro, Ore., on hold after being unable to get enough financing, The Oregonian reported this week.

CEO Andrew Wilson told the newspaper that SpectraWatt is searching for an existing building that it could retrofit for less, and it is considering leaving the state. He also said the change of plans will delay SpectraWatt’s first solar-cell shipments by five or six months.

The company, which was raising a $50 million round of funding led by Intel in June, said then that it expected to ship its first solar cells from a 60-megawatt factory in the middle of this year. SpectraWatt didn’t respond to requests for more information Thursday afternoon.

The setback is the latest sign of tough times for solar companies. As a recession is making capital scarce, analysts are predicting an oversupply of solar panels that could lead to a pricing plunge. Jenny Chase, a senior associate for solar at New Energy Finance, expects some 4 gigawatts of panels to go begging this year.

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Why the Case Against Cuban Smells Fishy

Mark Cuban by Brian SolisUpdated: It’s a classic PR play: When you start to look like the bad guy, call out a bigger bad guy. And it seems to be the strategy that the Securities and Exchange Commission — besieged by accusations of lax enforcement before and during the credit crisis — is using in going after Mark Cuban for insider trading. It’s too early to say definitively whether Cuban is guilty of insider trading in (now called Copernic), a search also-ran whose management has, in Cuban’s own judgment, “a checkered past.” On his blog, the normally voluble Cuban simply accused the SEC of acting on “win-at-any-cost ambitions” and a process that “was result-oriented, fact be damned.” Still, it’s not looking good for him at all.
The SEC’s complaint against Cuban outlines some pretty compelling evidence: Cuban bought 6.3 percent of in March 2004. Three months later, the company CEO told him it was issuing a controversial, and heavily dilutive, private placement. “Well, now I’m screwed,” Cuban told Mamma’s CEO. “I can’t sell.” But he did, before the offering’s official announcement, sparing himself $750,000 in losses.
Whatever the outcome of the case — Silicon Alley Insider discusses some possible wriggle room — the timing of this news is fishy. Cuban’s attorney said the investigation has been pending for nearly two years, yet it’s only being announced now, less than a month after SEC chair Christopher Cox was raked over the coals at a House committee hearing.
Cox has hardly been a champion of investors. Back in April, some Senators asked the General Accounting Office to investigate the SEC’s enforcement division. Years of budget cuts had left a lean crew, prompting many talented staffers to leave. Disgorgements — repayments of ill-gotten profits — fell 50 percent last year. With a credit crisis looming, Cox’s 2009 budget called for a 1 percent increase in funds — not enough to account for cost of living increases, so another 32 jobs were cut from the enforcement division.
There’s no quicker way to show your watchdog has teeth than to bite a big name. The Cuban story is dominating business news today, just as the Martha Stewart insider trading case did in the wake of the last round of financial scandals — Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, etc.
Martha Stewart did regulators a big favor: She kept the story alive by making statements that prosecutors deemed false. The SEC had been facing charges of lax enforcement back then, too. Stewart’s stock sales saved her only $46,000, but her trial and jail time not only eclipsed other financial fraud cases, it left many people thinking the SEC had learned its lesson and was getting tough.
To be clear, I’m not defending insider selling. Cuban may or may not be guilty, and as I said it’s not looking good. My point is that it’s very suspicious that the SEC tends to wheel out a big, headline-grabbing case whenever it’s chairman is on the ropes.
Whatever happens to Cuban, this case will do absolutely nothing to prevent the SEC from falling asleep at the wheel again.
Update: Cuban is fighting back, as VentureBeat sums up. Cuban’s blog has a memo attempting to refute evidence in the SEC ‘s complaint; and the NY Times has a purported email from an SEC staffer accusing Cuban of being unpatriotic because of his involvement in a documentary critical of President Bush. Very odd, but it suggests Cuban may run a media-savvy counter-campaign.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Solis via Flickr.