More Solar Blight: First Solar and SunPower Cut Back

The news seems destined to keep getting worse before it gets better

1 min read
More Solar Blight: First Solar and SunPower Cut Back

The latest bad news today is First Solar's announcement that it is cutting its global workforce 30 percent and shutting down its European operations based near Frankfurt. "After a thorough analysis, it is clear the European market has deteriorated to the extent that our operations there are no longer economically sustainable," said First Solar's interim CEO and chairman Mike Ahearn.

In the latter part of 2011 there was a surge in solar installations, with a U.S. cash grant program set to expire at the end of the year and European subsidies scheduled to be cut sharply "across the board," as Lux Research put it in a recent report, "Market Size Update 2012: The Push to a Post-Subsidy Solar Industry." This year Lux expects global installations to be flat, totaling 26.9 GW, compared to 26.5 GW in 2011.

It's a grim prospect for any solar company based in North America or Europe that is battling fierce competition from China, even when such companies are doing much of their production overseas. Yesterday, SunPower announced it was closing one of its two plants in the Philippines. That leaves the company, headquartered in San Jose, with two plants, one in the Philippines and one in Malaysia. The plant it’s shuttering is the oldest of the three, and the decision to close it is connected with SunPower's effort to focus on production of higher-efficiency solar cells.

Four years ago, when the industry was abuzz with talk of a "photovoltaic Moore's law," SunPower and First Solar, based in Tempe, Ariz., were considered the star performers among U.S. PV manufacturers.

Photo: courtesy of SunPower



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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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