The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

More Casualties in Solar Crunch

It's onward to the past and maybe not the solar millennium after all

2 min read
More Casualties in Solar Crunch

Not so very long ago British Petroleum was styling itself as the world's largest solar manufacturer and promising to take us "beyond petroleum." It made that claim on the basis of having acquired a small Maryland photovoltaics maker that happened to be the world's largest PV producer. This week, BP closed down what was a left of that operation, saying it could not find a way of making money in solar.

Such are the ravages wrought by the calamitous entry into the world solar market of highly subsidized, low-labor-cost Chinese manufacturers. Another and more telling victim was Germany's Solar Millennium, which had got the world's attention with some very large utility-scale projects, based on innovative thermal technology projects, notably Blythe in California. At the end of the summer Solar Millennium announced it was redesigning the 1-gigawatt Blythe plant to be based on PV panel technology, suspending work on the project, and turning down a Department of Energy loan guarantee because the company felt DOE's terms were too restrictive. Now, this week, Solar Millennium filed for bankruptcy, its stock price plunging.

Blythe, which is to be the world's largest solar plant,  was perhaps the most high-profile of U.S. utility-scale solar projects, and had gone through a number of design changes to accommodate environmental and water-management concerns. Now Solar Millennium is in the market to sell its solar order book, which exceeds 2 GW in aggregate projected capacity. Its prospects should be reasonably good, as smart investors like Warren Buffett have entered the solar market, snapping up bargains. Earlier this week, as Forbes reported, "Google and leveraged buyout giant KKR agreed to acquire four solar power plants under construction by Recurrent Energy."

In all, there have been eight major solar bankruptcies since the summer, most recently--besides Solar Millennium--Evergreen Solar and SpectraWatt. Not just because of the embarrassing Solyndra insolvency, the politics and policies of fostering alternative energy is sure to be on the presidential campaign agenda in the coming year.


 

 

The Conversation (0)
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.

Keep Reading ↓Show less