In Solar Shakeout, Focus Shifting to Big-Name Players

Mixed news about First Solar and Q-Cells

1 min read
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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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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