Solar Firms Are Slashing Jobs

We’ve all read the ugly news: some 500,000 jobs lost in December, and layoffs happening all over the tech industry. And while the solar industry may be the darling of the media, venture capitalists and policy-makers, it isn’t immune to job losses. In fact, it seems to be suffering more than other sectors out there, as large manufacturers expect solar module prices to decline in 2009 and young solar startups that grew too big too fast struggle in the tighter market.

Last week thin-film solar maker OptiSolar said it is laying off 300, or almost half, of its employees — that includes 105 of the 175 employees at its plant in Sacramento, notes the Sacramento Bee and 185 workers in Hayward. OptiSolar was expecting that the 1-million-square-foot Sacramento plant, with a capacity of 600 MW per year, would be the largest PV manufacturing plant in North America when constructed.

Now OptiSolar’s plant construction is on hold until at least the second half of 2009, while the company looks for more funding and applies for a government loan guarantee. That’s got to make California utility PG&E nervous, as OptiSolar’s thin film material is supposed to supply a massive PV solar power plant in the desert to meet the state mandated goal of clean power as early as 2010. OptiSolar spokesperson Alan Bernheimer told us the layoffs are not expected to change the timeline of its solar power projects.
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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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10 Memorable Cleantech Lawsuits From 2008

Any time business goes bad, you can expect lawsuits to follow; the cleantech industry is no exception, and the last year saw plenty of court action.

While we’re all ready to embrace 2009, we couldn’t help but take one more look back at 2008 and draw up this list of the most memorable lawsuits in cleantech. The Top 10 include three from electric car maker Tesla, six involving large solar manufacturing firms and one weirdo wildcard. Who’s going to turn to the courts in 2009? [digg=http://digg.com/environment/10_Memorable_Cleantech_Lawsuits_From_2008]

1). Emcore’s Class Action: The latest, slipped in just before the turn of the new year, involves a proposed class-action lawsuit against Emcore (s EMKR), a solar and broadband company, which claims that Emcore had overstated the size of its order backlog and artificially inflated its share price. The news sent the company’s shares plunging from a 52-week high of $15.70 per share on Jan. 2, 2008 to close at $1.08 per share Friday, a year later. What a way to start out 2009.

2). Magna vs. Tesla: Tesla Motors had more than its fair share of lawsuits in 2008. First of all Magna Powertrain, which designs, tests and makes powertrains, filed one against the electric-sports-car startup in February, alleging that Tesla owed it $5.6 million for unpaid transmission work.

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Intel Flees Optical Market With Emcore Deal

Intel’s sale to Emcore of the enterprise and storage assets of its optical platform division, along with its high-performance computing cables business, is the second deal of its kind between the two companies. Intel in December closed on an $85 million sale of the telecom assets from the optical platform division to Emcore.

Apparently Emcore is working to turn Intel’s trash and into treasure, expecting margins of 50 percent on the cabling business and sales of $45 million in the coming year from the enterprise optical platform. Intel got into the optics business in the 1990s in an effort to branch out beyond x86 processors. In 2006, it retrenched and began the process of getting out of optics (and at the same time, the cell-phone radio business). This particular deal leaves Intel with few optical holdings, but it will continue to invest in R&D related to silicon photonics.

If It’s Not PC, It’s Not For Intel

[qi:109] Looks like the leading PC chip maker, Intel Corp., is continuing with cleaning house and getting rid of non-core, non-PC businesses. They are selling their fiber optic component business to chip maker Emcore for about $85 million. Intel had previously sold its communications chip business to Cortina Systems.

This is not such a bad deal for Emcore, since the division sold by Intel has customers like Fujitsu and Alcatel-Lucent. Tunables are amongst the fast-growing parts of the fiber ecosystem. Tim Savageaux of Merriman Curhan Ford, a brokerage firm, believes that with this deal, Emcore could split its solar and chips businesses into two distinct companies.