Solar maker Evergreen Solar files for bankruptcy

It’s not a startup, but it’s the latest member of the cleantech graveyard. On Monday, Evergreen Solar filed for Chapter 11 and announced it will be selling its assets, laying off 65 people and suspending operation of its Midland, Mich. filament factory.

Race to Outfit White House With Solar Begins

After some intense lobbying by solar energy advocates, White House is making room for solar. In a blog post, Energy Secretary Steve Chu said solar panels and a solar water heater system will rise from the White House roof by the end of the Spring.

Solar Concerns Turn from Credit Crunch to Price Plunge

real-goods-solar-installOne year ago, two key trends dominated the solar industry: economic uncertainty and scarce credit. If solar companies were to survive, they needed to scramble to adapt their strategies to both. Today, the economy is more stable and credit is freer, and so the industry faces two different trends. The first — a supply glut of solar products — has been in the making for years, and it keeps pushing prices down. The second is only beginning to emerge, but could take root: Demand has picked up for solar installations, especially in homes.
That’s the picture being portrayed in solar earnings reports, and the conference calls to discuss them this week. Real Goods Solar (s RSOL) said on Thursday that its revenue in the third quarter rose 122 percent compared with the same period last year, including the addition of companies it’s acquired in the past year. Excluding those acquisitions, revenue still grew 41 percent. John Schaeffer, Real Goods Solar’s president, said a lot of the increase came from homeowners. In a statement, he noted that the company saw “the return of strong demand for residential solar” during the third quarter. Read More about Solar Concerns Turn from Credit Crunch to Price Plunge

Solar Manufacturers: More Solar Robots, Less Green Jobs

Everyone and their mother are touting the benefits of more green jobs on the world’s economies. That is, unless you happen to be part of a clean power or energy efficiency firm that is actually making a product — then more automation in the production process, i.e., fewer employees, ultimately means lower costs. While the process of manufacturing solar systems is mostly automated, solar companies at the Intersolar conference in San Francisco on Monday emphasized that solar production needs to incorporate even more automation technology, which would eliminate jobs and bring down the price of solar systems.


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Can First Solar Shake the Earnings Blues?

Solar companies have spent the past few weeks reporting their latest quarterly results, and the sector is looking battered. Many big names reported discouraging financials for the last three months of 2008, then followed up with even less cheery forecasts for 2009.

But after the stock market closes Tuesday, the solar industry’s favorite son, First Solar (s fslr) steps up with its report. And if any company can buck the trend, it’s First Solar. The stock has held up relatively well so far in 2009; as of Monday’s close it was down 9.5 percent. The S&P 500, by contrast, is down 18 percent. Other solar companies are down even further: Solarfun (s solf) has fallen 43 percent this year, JA Solar (s jaso) has slid 52 percent, and Evergreen Solar has lost 63 percent of its value.

The reasons for the solar slump are simple enough. The credit crunch is hurting the ability of solar panel manufacturers to raise capital to expand future production. The prices of their goods are falling quickly — a welcome development in the long run since it will make solar panels an attractive option to traditional energies — but a grueling process until then. And despite hopes that governments will boost spending on solar energy, there are lingering concerns that at some point that public money may dry up.
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IBM Beefs Up Tivoli for the Cloud

Today IBM (s IBM)  announced that six universities are using its cloud computing expertise to set up and manage clouds located in Qatar, Africa and in Japan. It is using Hadoop for allocating resources in the cloud — something it first began doing in 2007 when it teamed up with Google (s GOOG) for its first cloud project. Since that time, IBM has combined Hadoop and its Tivoli systems management software in many of its efforts. Now it’s going further.

Dennis Quan, director of autonomic computing with IBM, said that future efforts will likely involve Tivoli’s Workload Scheduler — possibly to manage actual compute jobs running in a cloud. Quan didn’t get into too many specifics, and an IBM spokeswoman noted that the company plans to make an announcement in February about Tivoli and cloud computing. Such a move would extend IBM’s efforts beyond simply making it easy to create a cloud to allowing IT managers to control jobs running in them.

If IBM thinks IT managers that buy its software are looking for help controlling their work flow in the cloud, maybe enterprises are willing to embrace the idea of using clouds inside the corporate firewalls or for mission-critical jobs. Enterprises may be ready to use the cloud as more than generic compute cycles of last resort when they unexpectedly require excess processing power.

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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Suntech Reaches 1GW of Solar Manufacturing Capacity

China’s Suntech Power Holdings (s STP) announced a big milestone today, hitting 1 gigawatt (GW) of photovoltaic cell and module production capacity in Wuxi, nearly doubling the firm’s 2007 output of 540 megawatts.

suntech_headquarters

Today’s news comes after a tough year for solar stocks, with shares of Suntech, Yingli Green Energy (s YGE), JA Solar (s JASO) and Evergreen Solar (s ESLR) all losing more than 80 percent of their value in 2008. But Suntech’s big production capacity could help it ride out the economic storm; the larger output could help push prices down for the company’s solar cells and modules, which could attract more buyers. Suntech CEO Zhengrong Shi said last month that an expected oversupply of polysilicon this year could cut the company’s prices event further — 20-30 percent compared with the third quarter of 2008.
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Evergreen Solar’s EverQ Delays IPO, Becomes “Sovello”

Prince, aka The Symbol, aka TAFKAP, has nothing on cleantech companies these days. Last week, Aptera’s three-wheeled Typ-1 became the 2e, and SunEthanol renamed itself Qteros the week before that. Now we have Germany-based solar manufacturer EverQ, which late last month became Sovello AG. The name change for this joint venture from Evergreen Solar (s ESLR), Q-Cells and Renewable Energy Corp. (s REC) comes as part of a larger move to independence, the details of which were unveiled yesterday. According to Cleantech Group, Sovello will take on responsibility for its market position and marketing. It has also switched to a public limited company from a limited liability company, a move designed to make it easier for Sovello to acquire outside capital for expansion that Evergreen had previously planned to finance.

Sovello also said it will put its public offering on hold. As we reported in late 2007, EverQ’s parent companies had been discouragingly vague about a timeline for the spinoff, committing only to preparing the venture for its IPO, not actually seeing it through.

Leaving flexibility to back out now appears to have been a smart move for the venture. In 2007, publicly traded solar companies were seeing enough gains for us to wonder if it might be the year of solar stock. More than 12 months later, however, despite a recent rally for the sector and Sovello’s relatively firm foundation (EverQ ramped up production to 90 megawatts with two plants in Thalheim, Germany, and reported a 115-percent rise in sales for the first three quarters of this year over the same period in 2007), the market looks quite different. Case in point: Q-Cells, Germany’s largest solar manufacturer, led a decline in shares of solar companies in Frankfurt trading after delayed orders from customers and tight financing forced it to cut earnings forecasts for 2008 and 2009.