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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Was Solyndra’s failure due to the wrong technology at the wrong time, workforce too costly, lack of demand for solar?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (20270 points ) September 1st, 2011

You have a company, Solyndra, the government is touting as their poster boy, and garnishing with half a billion dollars the public is on the hook for, was that a better investment than another cruise missile or drone? If the workers have been able to work cheaper, would the company have been able to stay afloat? Was solar just not popular enough to supply enough demand to cover overhead?

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4 Answers

dabbler's avatar

Looks like just a failed BusinessPlan.
New tech is hard and while they have a keen idea that’s just more expensive to make than they thought.
But bottom line my guess is that competing solar technologies are more established and customers found them more attractive because of less unknowns.

It can be to sell a relatively radical version of a product (photovoltaics) that’s already not necessary but nice to have. Regular photovoltaics have lower install costs and most people will look at that.
Also there is some company out there with a nanotech implementation of the same principle, microtubes covered with photosensitive nanofibers, that have all the advantages of the cylindrical model (esp the ability to capture light from any angle) and without the same fabrication costs as Solyndra, although they still have their fab consistency issues and haven’t started mass-producing yet.

bkcunningham's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central, here are some interesting facts about Solyndra and the push by Obama to give the company tax dollars aka an energy loan guarantee.

http://www.iwatchnews.org/2011/08/31/6064/obama-backed-solar-firm-collapses-after-big-federal-loan-guarantee

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

I think it is another great example of big government inefficiency and corruption at work. The government needs to stop subsidizing every market possible. It subsidizes solar and wind to help compete with natural gas, oil,and coal, which it also subsidizes. Why not get rid of subsidies on the other sources, before they subsidize other energy sources, or just not subsidize any of them and leave it to the free market.
From @bkcunningham‘s article:
“One of Solyndra’s major investors was George Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire who raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama during the 2008 election.”

I work in the solar industry in NJ, where we have the second most PV installations and production in the nation. Sounds great, but I think we are going about it the wrong way and it is because of government interference.
During June 2011 alone, 520 solar projects totaling over 40 MW of capacity were installed,
representing the most projects and the largest amount of solar capacity installed in one month. That means the average system installed was about 77kW. The average system on a home is anywhere from 4–15kW. That means that most of the systems are very big installations, usually by corporations, which is who all legislation written about energy policy favors.
The 30% Federal tax credit is another tax cut for the rich. If a homeowner installs a system, they may save $10–15,000 in tax credits and those homeowners typically make decent money. But think about the corporations who install a $600,000 system. They just got a $200,000 tax credit.
Different states have different incentives, but what propelled NJ to the top of PV production was something called SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Certificate). They are production based. For every 1MW(1,000kW) produced by the system, you receive a certificate that you can sell on a market, yet another one that government helped create out of thin air. Since a homeowner can only install a system no larger than the amount of energy they use every year, guess who these help? Those companies that install the 77kW system. A 77kW system will produce ~86MW a year in NJ. The average 2011 SREC price is about $550/credit. Thats another $47,000. An 8kW system, installed on a home, would produce ~9 MW a year. Thats about $5,000.
Not a terrible deal for the homeowner, who is finally hearing that solar may be affordable in NJ, though many can not secure financing for the installation because financing must be based on the price before incentives, but here’s the kicker. SREC values were estimated to decrease ~3%/year. They are based on the fact that the state mandates utilities to produce a certain amount of energy by renewables. Since most utilities aren’t producing the amount required, they can buy the credits from the SREC market to compensate.
Due to the overwhelming amount of production, mostly from the large installations, the value of the 2012 SRECs are currently selling for about $200/credit, making it not nearly as attractive to the homeowner and really screwing homeowners who bought the system based on a 3%/year decline in SREC value, but still attractive the companies that can install utility-sized system.
I fell that we need to rethink our energy policy. Most people hear energy independence, and think free from dependence on foreign oil. I’d like to take that even further, although it goes against corporate principles. Thanks to solar and wind, we can start breaking down and localizing the grid, community renewable energy co-op’s, or something like that. We are at the point where we can break free from the corporate energy monopolies that control much of how this nation runs, but I have a feeling that legislation on the Federal and State level is doing what it does best, creating a bubble that makes a few people richer and more powerful, and when it bursts, we may have a lot of clean energy, but the monopoly will still be there, the monopoly created by government interference.

Poser's avatar

@SquirrelEStuff I’d argue that the incentives that you mention benefit the corporation in roughly the same proportion as they benefit the homeowner. The corporation spends (and risks) much more than the homeowner. Why then, should they not reap larger benefits, if there are benefits to be reaped. Why should the homeowner, (whose motives for installing PVs are no less selfish than those of the corporation, btw) reap a larger proportional percentage of the incentives? Their contribution to the economy, not to mention the amount of energy they are producing (and thus saving with the installation of PVs) is a mere fraction of the corporation’s.

Now, having said all that, I completely agree with you that all energy (and farm, and business, etc.) subsidies should stop completely. The half-billion dollar Solyndra debacle that the taxpayers took up the poop-chute is what happens when you have a bunch of life-long politicians who have never had a real job playing with your money like it is a game of monopoly.

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