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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Solyndra Solar Company Folds Under Foreign Pressure

Posted By on Wed, Aug 31, 2011 at 2:20 PM


Solyndra, a Fremont-based solar module manufacturer, closed its doors this morning, filed for bankruptcy, and promptly laid off about 1,100 employees.

After only six years since its inception, the company faced steep challenges from cheaper Chinese flat-solar panels that saturated the market and shut down operations despite its $1 billion in private funds, and $535 million from the Department of Energy's Loan Guarantee program.

Those funds helped Solyndra expand its tube-shaped solar technology, which was touted alongside an easier and more cost-effective solar installation method. But silicon prices dropped, other competitors began making rival products, and investors who had bet on Solyndra's promise found themselves let down.

"Global economic and solar industry market conditions have forced the company to suspend its manufacturing operations," Solyndra said in a statement. "Solyndra could not achieve full-scale operations rapidly enough to compete in the near term with the resources of larger foreign manufacturers."

For years, the company was a photo-op factory, posing as the poster child for burgeoning clean-tech growth in the U.S. The company has ferried through public appearances and congratulations from Energy Secretary Steven Chu, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Senator Barbara Boxer.

When President Obama visited in May 2010, he showcased the company as a pioneering job creator in a growing clean-tech field.

It's a tale that could get tossed around in the near future as Republicans use Solyndra as an example of governmental spending gone awry. But in the end, Solyndra's $2-per-watt modules stayed dim next to Chinese products at around $1.10 per watt -- and even Republicans will have to confront foreign competition as a national problem, not just one that hit during a Democratic presidency.

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Ellen Huet


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