A glut of solar panels and crushing prices have made life difficult for solar manufacturers this year, and bad news keeps coming. Longtime solar thin-film maker Energy Conversion Devices, which has factories in Michigan, Canada and Mexico, has suspended manufacturing and will furlough 400 workers.
Solar manufacturers have been on supercharged expansion mode over the past five years in order to cut costs and solar prices. But to continue that march at this point is just unwise. First Solar is now putting off bringing online a solar panel factory in Vietnam.
Another dark cloud is waiting for solar companies: the decline of government incentives that in the past have pumped the growth of the solar market worldwide. The United Kingdom, for example, plans to halve its subsidies for solar panels in 2012.
Solyndra bankruptcy has helped to fuel resentment toward China for its generous subsidies of Chinese solar companies. That resentment has morphed into petitions filed Wednesday that ask the U.S. government to investigate Chinese companies for allegedly flooding the U.S. market with goods below costs.
Japan has long supported solar energy development, but the nuclear disaster this spring pushed it to expand its clean power supplies. That effort reached a milestone on Friday when its lawmakers approved a program that will require its utilities to buy renewable electricity at government-set prices under long-term contracts.
Solar companies haven’t fared well so far this year, so it’s not surprisingly that Applied Materials, which makes factory equipment for solar, also has seen drops in sales. The company reported on Wednesday a 12-percent fall in sales between its two most recent quarters.
Sempra Generation will join the pantheon of solar power plant developers who’ve gotten government aid. The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday announced an offer for a $359.1 million loan guarantee to Sempra to build a 150 MW project in Arizona.
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.
Solar companies have seen their stocks riding high so far this year. But that ride wont’ last forever. Here is a list of events and policies that could move the stocks in 2011.
First Solar’s big plan to eventually build 2 gigawatts of power plants in China’s Inner Mongolia has moved ahead. The company signed a memorandum of understanding with China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Co. on Wednesday to develop the first phase, 30-megawatt project.