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Summary:

The turning of the new year didn’t make the solar industry any easier for solar manufacturers. Power electronics maker, Satcon Technology, announced Wednesday that it’s laying off 35 percent of its workers and shutting down its factory in Canada.

solar panel

The turning of the new year didn’t make the solar industry any easier for solar manufacturers. Power electronics maker, Satcon Technology, announced Wednesday it’s laying off 35 percent of its workers and shutting down its factory in Canada. The news followed reports earlier this week that a Silicon Valley solar panel maker canceled a plan for a solar factory in Michigan.

Boston-based Satcon makes inverters that convert direct current from solar cells to alternating current to feed to the grid. Inverters play a critical role in solar power generation, and startups that aim to improve inverters’ performance have attracted some big investments from venture capitalists.

Satcon’s decision to close its factory in Ontario and cut about 140 employees worldwide reflects a trend that took hold last year when solar companies – mostly solar cell and panel makers – began announcing layoffs, factory closures and bankruptcies. A pileup of solar energy equipment and the corresponding fall in prices have caused not only declining profits but a trade complaint against Chinese silicon solar cell and panel makers.

The complaint contends Chinese manufacturers have received unfair government help to boost their production and sell their products at below-market prices. The U.S. International Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce are reviewing the complaint, which seeks to impose duties on Chinese imports.

The global inverter market saw a 20-percent decline in revenue during the third quarter of 2011, said IMS Research last month. Although prices stopped falling quickly in the third quarter, they were still 15 percent lower on average than in 2010.

Meanwhile, San Jose, Calif.-based GlobalWatt said it will ditch a plan to build a $177 million silicon solar panel factory in Michigan. The company apparently had started production on a small scale at what was to be a larger factory in Saginaw, Mich., and NBC has reported  Michigan officials are saying GlobalWatt presented false information when it tried to line up government incentives for the factory.

Here’s our list of solar companies that have gone out of business or shrunk their operations in light of the tough market:

Company Action Date
BP Solar Announces it’s shutting down December 2011
Energy Conversion Devices Announces temporary suspension of all factories November 2011
Evergreen Solar Declares bankruptcy August 2011
MEMC Electronic Materials Idles one factory December 2011
REC Cuts silicon wafer production in Norway January 2012
Satcon Technology Closes inverter factory in Canada January 2012
Schott Solar Closes cell factory in Germany December 2011
Solar Millennium Files for insolvency December 2011
Solland Solar Exits cell production January 2012
Solon Shuts down U.S. factory. Files for insolvency. December 2011
SolarWorld Shuts U.S. factory September 2011
Solyndra Declares bankruptcy August 2011
SpectraWatt Firesale for $4.9 million September 2011
Stirling Energy Systems Declares bankruptcy September 2011

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  1. Part of this whole “technolust” is the fear that as soon as you buy something, you’ll see an ad for a newer version. Since people are mostly unsure about solar; how it works, how to implement, etc.; this fear is greatly increased. Therefore, it won’t be a real consumer product until the entire unit/device is like the size of a refregerator and can be purchased at a local appliance store.

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