In Solar Shakeout, Focus Shifting to Big-Name Players

In the wake of highly publicized solar bankruptcies and amid expectations that the shakeout will continue to claim victims, attention has been shifting to the big North American and European players that were dominating the news cycle before Chinese companies began capturing so much of the action.

The last weeks produced particularly complex and unsettling news for First Solar, the maker of a thin-film photovoltaic material that was the pace-setter in driving down installation costs for several years running. First there was the abrupt and unexplained replacement of the company's CEO following by a drubbing in the stock market, then better-than-expected third-quarter results, a surge in stock prices, only to be followed by another dive in share values.

Two months earlier, Germany's Q-Cells--the country’s biggest PV manufacturer (photo above, Berlin quarters)--took an even worse drubbing, After reporting nearly 400 million euros in losses for the first half of the year and predicting losses of close to 1 billion euros for the year as a whole, Q-Cells said it would lay off half its German employees and radically restructure. It's no wonder under the circumstances that the U.S. subsidiary of Germany's Solar World, another top PV maker, recently led seven solar firms in bringing a trade complaint against China.

As low-cost Chinese sellers of basic polysilicon PV cells continue to put brutal pressure on everybody else, and as cash-strapped governments begin to pare solar subsidies, the question will be in the coming year whether the industry's traditional stalwarts can weather the storm.

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