Saturday, September 24, 2011

Solyndra, the Bankruptcy, and the Future of Solar

The last 30 days has certainly marked a newsworthy period of time for the solar industry. In addition to the fear of Europe cutting solar subsidies, reports of a pending global recession lowering solar panel demand, allegations that a Chinese solar company was illegally dumping chemicals, the US Government probe determining if a solar leasing company was improperly receiving taxpayer dollars and -- if that wasn't bad enough -- a handful of solar companies filed for bankruptcy, too.

Phew. That's enough to make your jaw drop to the floor.

Over the past two weeks I've had dozens of customers place phone calls and emails to our office hoping to learn more about Solyndra, asking ultimately what happened and why. Nearly everyone heard the news on television and generally have a list of typical (but justifiable) questions about Solyndra and their inability to stay in business.

Solyndra's technology was fundamentally different than other more popular and notable forms of solar panels. According to their website "Solyndra’s cylindrical design offers proven reliability and superior performance. Each panel is made up of 40 individual modules, wired in parallel for high current, which capture sunlight across a 360-degree photovoltaic surface capable of converting direct, diffuse and reflected sunlight into electricity. Using innovative cylindrical copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS modules) and thin-film technology, Solyndra systems are designed to be able to provide the lowest system installation costs on a per watt basis for the commercial rooftop market."

Sounds impressive, I would admit, but ultimately the cost of producing these panels was significantly higher than the revenues which could be brought in by selling them. Economics 101 tells us this is not a sustainable business model.

While we're on the topic, there were no shortage of people who believed Solyndra could not compete in the national and international market. (I even ran into an auto mechanic in Northern California who informed me Solyndra was not doing well nearly three months before they filed for bankruptcy and sent all their employees home at the end of August.) I don't believe Solyndra's ultimate downfall was shocking to many of the individuals who had been tracking the company for some time. What is shocking and unfortunate, though, is the misappropriation of taxpayer dollars and the inevitable inability to launch a new form of technology which may have had potential to lower our need for fossil fuels and ensure sustainable energy sources for the next generation. Not every new technology is a sure thing and as we've witnessed and some investments were never meant to be made.

The truth is, it's a fairly complicated situation and I'm sure a volume of books could be written on the Solyndra story. (I wouldn't doubt if there are publishing contracts in the works.) Solyndra's whole situation is quite unfortunate, that's for sure; however, I believe it's worth noting that Solyndra's failure should not be remembered as a black mark on the solar industry; rather, an inability to create and market a new form of technology due to the high cost of production and low demand.

From the words of Cosmic Solar's President, Bahram Shadzi, as well as many other professionals in the green energy field who echo his idea, "solar's true potential has only really scratched the surface here in the United States and around the world. If you think it's becoming popular now, wait 10 years and just see how this industry explodes."

I think it's safe to say he's spot on.

Despite what some may say, solar technology is not a brand new, experimental technology. It's been around for many decades and its ability to relieve our excessive need for oil, coal and other unsustainable forms of energy is very real. According to the California Center for Sustainable Energy, California has installed over 100 megawatts of solar or over 100,000 projects just in this state alone over the past few years. As subsidies have begun diminishing, the cost of solar has also become more competitive, meaning at this time, solar is more affordable than ever. With no money down options, lease to purchase, attractively priced loans and full purchase options, virtually everyone can take advantage and have a system installed to lower or eliminate their electric bill while producing their own clean, sustainable electricity on their own roof.

Solyndra's ultimate downfall, though tragic, should not be viewed negatively in light of the solar revolution. Rather, it should be a reminder that pursuing new technologies which are costly and unproven can often be risky while continuing research and development and perfecting the highly reliable forms we already have is key. Despite the unfortunate events of the past 30 days and the dim light that has been placed on the solar industry this month, let us not forget that solar is the future.

New technologies may come and go, but harnessing the sun's natural power for your very own use will prove to be one of the most important discoveries of our modern era.

Pey Shadzi
Operations Manager at Cosmic Solar
Proud owner of a beautiful solar system
(760) 532-9712

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