Nanosolar, which has struggled for years to fulfill its promise as the next major thin-film solar manufacturer, announced Thursday it has a new CEO, again. Eugenia Corrales, who has been the startup’s head of engineering and operations, is taking over the chief executive post effective immediately.
The transition, though the company said it’s planned, still raises questions about the company’s well-being. Nanosolar is among a group of thin-film startups that have received hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital but have yet to become meaningful players in the solar market. Corrales replaces Geoff Tate, who arrived at the helm of Nanosolar two years ago in 2010. Before that, the company was led by its colorful founder Martin Roscheisen.
The company makes copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar panels, and it has built a reputation for making promises it can’t deliver. Part of that came from Roscheisen, who said the company began commercial production of solar panels in Dec, 2007, which meant it should have begun to steadily increase its shipments, line up more customers and expand production. But he then divulged few details that would show progress, such as its technology, factory capacities, customers or projects, and he did so for long enough to draw suspicion, then ridicule from analysts and competitors.
It turned out the company wasn’t ready for prime time. Nanosolar announced in Sept. 2009 that, for sure, it was entering mass production that time around. The company became more circumspect about its work and opened its factory in San Jose, Calif. for tours to show it was making progress.
Nanosolar has announced some big contracts, technology improvements and completion of projects by its customers since Tate took over, but the company also was trying to right itself during a time when the solar market was beset by an oversupply of panels and falling prices for solar panels. Many of the much larger solar manufacturers have closed factories, laid off a big percent of their workforce, or gone bankrupt (see our list). Whether Nanosolar can survive remains a big question.
Corrales started at Nanosolar in 2010 and the company says, “under Corrales, cumulative shipments have gone from zero to 10MW; and median panel efficiencies are now 11.5%,” the company said in a statement. Tate is “returning to retirement.”
Corrales previously worked for two other solar companies, including SolFocus. Before that, she was the VP of operations at Cisco Systems.
“Eugenia’s track record at Nanosolar and prior speaks for itself, and this planned transition will allow the company to maintain its momentum and trajectory. We are confident that under her stewardship we can grow the market for Nanosolar Utility panels and expand our global footprint,” said Erik Straser, Nanosolar board member and general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, in a statement.
Other solar thin-film CIGS startups that have replaced and lost CEOs of in recent years include MiaSole, SoloPower and HelioVolt. Solyndra got a new CEO in mid-2010, and a year later it went bankrupt.