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Continuing Solar Debacle

April 10, 2012

Bankruptcies of solar firms are happening so rapidly it’s hard to keep up with them.

Last week Q-cells, one of the larger German manufacturers, filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy will result in the layoff of 2,000 employees.

Now there is a report that Solar Trust of America is going to file for bankruptcy.

Solar Trust of America was to build a 1,000 MW concentrating solar power plant near Blythe in southern California. The Department of Energy (DOE) had awarded a $2.1billion conditional loan guarantee to Solar Trust of America. The Solyndra loan was only $0.5 billion.

Solar Trust of America is expected to have liabilities in excess of assets, of between $10 and $50 million.

(Amazingly, Solyndra’s web site on April 4, 2012, was still advertising that Solyndra’s roof top solutions “offer a strong return on investment.”)

Solar Trust ran into trouble when Solar Millennium AG, that held a 70% investment in Solar Trust, filed for court protection last December.

But the story gets worse.

Solon, based in Berlin, filed for bankruptcy last December.

Solar Millennium, mentioned above, also filed for bankruptcy in December.

Scheuten Solar filed for bankruptcy in March of this year.

Solarhybrid also filed for bankruptcy in March of this year.

Odersun also filed for bankruptcy in March of this year.

Der Spiegel said, “more bankruptcies would likely follow.”

This list is dominated by German companies, which reflects the very large subsidies, in the form of feed-in tariffs that were used by the government to promote the solar industry.

Feed-in tariffs required German utilities to buy electricity from people who installed solar panels, and to pay them a very high fixed price, approximately 55 cents/kWh which was at least four times what it cost the utilities to generate electricity using natural gas or coal.

These subsidies have thus-far amounted to over $100 billion.

Philipp Rösler, Germany’s minister of economics and technology, has called spiraling solar subsidies a “threat to the economy.”

Now that subsidies have been drastically reduced, the solar industry in Germany is collapsing. Solar can’t pay for itself, even with cheap Chinese PV products. (See Feeding at the Subsidy Trough.) There is a lesson to be learned from these bankruptcies.

Solar power is expensive, and is unaffordable without subsidies.

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that require utilities to provide a minimum amount  of electricity from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, merely force people to pay higher prices for electricity, which is another way to subsidize the solar and wind industries.

Government loans to companies that can’t be profitable without subsidies are a bad idea.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. kakatoa permalink
    April 10, 2012 10:40 am

    Morning Donn,

    One advantage that PV has over say wind RE projects, from an investors perspective, is the TOD factors that are part of the long term (up to 25 years) contracts used out here in CA. The CPUC recently published an update http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/NR/rdonlyres/3B3FE98B-D833-428A-B606-47C9B64B7A89/0/Q4RPSReporttotheLegislatureFINAL3.pdf for the legislature with lots of redacted price info that you might find of interest as well. As Footnote #8 of the report notes- “Actual renewable energy payments are adjusted by each IOU’s individual TOD factors and the time that a project generates electricity. For example, since solar PV generates electricity on peak, its electricity is more valuable and the solar PV generator receives a higher payment based on the TOD adjustment”.

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