Solar Shakeout Gets Scarier

The latest bankruptcy claims a really big fish

1 min read
Solar Shakeout Gets Scarier

I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to find the ongoing solar shakeout not merely disconcerting but positively scary. The latest solar victim, announced at the beginning of this week, is Germany's Q Cells. Just four years ago it was the world’s leading manufacturer of photovoltaics, and for two years after that it was high up in the top global ten. Then, middle of last year, as reported here, Q Cells had to lay off half its employees and radically restructure--a death rattle, it turns out. On Monday Q Cells announced it would be filing for bankruptcy.

If now, on top of brutal competitive from low-cost Chinese manufacturers and shrinking rich-country solar subsidies, oil prices were to take a plunge (as predicted by a minority school of thought among petroleum market experts) what was supposed to be the most sustainable of energy technologies may turn out to be utterly unsustainable.

The Q Cells headquarters building loomed rather prominently in Berlin's relatively low-rise skyline, which prompted me to snap the photo above during a visit to Berlin last October, with a feeling of foreboding.

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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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