Shakeup on the Solar Energy Front: Solyndra

September 20th, 2011
solarpanels

Those of us homesteaders who have been hoping the cost of solar panels would continue to fall until we can finally afford them on our houses and outbuildings have been watching with some trepidation the news that solar start-up Solyndra has filed for bankruptcy. What does it mean in terms of the push to secure truly ‘green’ jobs here in the U.S., as well as our struggle to get our nation off filthy fossil fuels like coal and gas, and to phase out ill-conceived nuclear power generation before Megalopolis ends up a ‘dead zone’ for 300+ years.

The New York Times reports that Solyndra’s bankruptcy bodes ill for the entire solar industry. But does it really? While we can be sure King Coal and Big Nukes would dearly love that to be true, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is true.

Solyndra’s collapse marked the third time in as many weeks that a solar company declared bankruptcy. Evergreen Solar Inc. of Massachusetts and SpectraWatt of New York also filed for protection.

Three investment-heavy solar companies in three weeks? What’s going on? Some analysts loudly tout the idea that the solar industry itself is in trouble – and there obviously is some trouble – but how bad is it? According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, part of the problem is that the cost of materials to make solar panels has been falling drastically as more and more investment in the technology has materialized, and more companies jump into the fray. In such a situation some of the most heavily leveraged companies who got in when material costs were high are going to fail simply due to their debt load. Solyndra also produced commercial rooftop systems with a unique cylindrical collection system, and that system proved to be entirely impractical in residential applications. This, analysts say, indicates that the company badly misunderstood the marketplace they’d entered.

Solyndra also produced the thin film solar panels I was hoping to use on my metal roof, so maybe their leftover stock of that will go at super-discount price now that the company is defaulting on its more than half a billion dollars in federal loans. Worst part, of course, are than 1,100 ‘green’ energy workers are now unemployed. Hopefully they’ll be able to find new work in the field soon. German energy giant just announced that it is getting out of the nuclear business altogether, and will refocus on its alternative and renewable divisions. ABC News reports that the Solyndra bankruptcy is unlikely to hamper government investment in green jobs or renewable energy sources, so that’s some good news.

Besides, despite the loss of those 1,100 jobs at Solyndra, the solar energy sector is still employing more than 100,000 people and has added more than 6,700 jobs just in the past year. Green job growth appears to be healthy despite some start-up upheavals in non-competitive sectors. These are good jobs, we need more of them.

The bottom line is that Chinese governmental investment in solar production is the biggest factor effecting cost of solar panels, as U.S. companies just don’t have access to the kind of sweatshop, prison and slave labor that the Chinese government can deploy. Much as American corporations would love to pay workers $2 a day for 16 hours of daily work, that’s simply not going to happen no matter how long they drag out this 2nd Great Depression.

The government’s exposure on these bankruptcies should definitely not prevent the necessary investment in alternatives, especially given the recent dramatic breakdown of half a century’s empty promises that nuclear energy would be “clean, safe, too cheap to meter.” The price of those is going nowhere but up, and they already cost more in initial investment than any other energy source. I figure the solar market will balance itself out over time, and those companies that install and maintain solar panels on your roof that turns THEM into your utility company (at a guaranteed rate, something you’ll never get from a public utility) seem to be doing great.

At any rate, I’m still hoping that by the time we’ve got the money to invest in full energy production for this homestead there will be available technologies made right here in the U.S. of A. that are both affordable and will do the job with enough extra to sell back to Duke. Why, maybe Duke will get enough from that distributed generation to cancel any and all plans for new nukes nobody needs or can afford. You never know…

Links:

U.S. Solar Industry Job Growth
Solyndra Bankruptcy Unlikely to Hamper Green Jobs
House Judiciary chair: Solyndra bankruptcy
Solyndra Bankruptcy Reveals Dark Clouds

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