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Summary:

Energy giant Siemens is leaving the solar market after investing heavily in solar technology and power plant construction. The decision is bad news for startups looking for corporate VCs.

Siemens solar 1

Solar startups aren’t the only ones getting burned in the solar power market these days. Siemens, which up until now has actively invested in solar startups, announced on Monday it will exit the solar biz and sell its solar energy business.

The decision reflects the poor outlook for the solar market by an energy giant, which had previously raced to tackle various segments of the business — including manufacturing, equipment sales and power plant engineering and construction — in order to compete with its big nemesis, GE. But the growth of the global solar market hasn’t met expectations, Siemens said in a statement, adding that changes in government policies and slim profit margins are among the chief causes.

Siemens’ exit also likely means it will not be actively looking to invest in any more solar startups, for the time being. The company has poured money into startups by either buying an equity stake of the company or by acquiring products from them. Siemens has invested in North Carolina-based Semprius, which developed a new way of producing highly efficient solar cells, and solar energy equipment to use those cells. Siemens bought Israel-based solar thermal technology company, Solel, a few years back. Siemens also inked a supply deal with Enphase Energy, before Enphase did an IPO in March this year. Microinverters are attached to solar panels and convert the direct current produced by the solar panels to alternating current for transport through the grid.

UPDATE: The vice president of business development at Semprius, Russ Kanjorski, told us that Siemens has made clear to Semprius’s executives that its  decision doesn’t reflect its view of Semprius’s technology and business. “The decision also presents an opportunity for Semprius to bring in a new strategic investor as part of its expansion plans.  From an operational standpoint for Semprius, however, it remains business as usual,” Kanjorski said by email.

Siemens made its decision to leave the solar market at a time when many solar manufacturers have suffered big losses and filed for bankruptcy. But those falling prices are supposed to benefit companies that buy the solar equipment for engineering and building solar power plants. On the other hand, the solar plant development business is getting crowded because it’s attracting so many newcomers, like solar manufacturers who want outlets for their products.

The global solar market has faced a glut of solar panels for nearly two years now, and the plummeting prices for them have forced many manufacturers to file for bankruptcy. One of them, organic thin film developer Konarka Technologies, just found a buyer for its German subsidiary. Belelectric, which builds solar power plants with photovoltaic panels, on Monday said it will buy the subsidiary but didn’t disclose the price. Massachusetts-based Konarka filed for bankruptcy in June this year after struggling for years to commercialize its low-efficiency solar film technology.

Nearly 200 more in North America, Europe and Asia will likely disappear in the next few years, according to GTM Research. Nearly half of them will not be around – either because they went out of business or will be bought – in places of high production costs, such as the U.S. GE has scaled back its solar market ambition, too, and decided earlier this year to nix a plan to build a 400 MW solar panel factory.

Even countries with lower manufacturing costs aren’t immune. Just last week, SunPower said it would idle several solar cell and panel production lines in Philippines and let go about 900 employees worldwide. During that same week, Boston-based Satcon Technology, an inverter maker, filed for bankruptcy.

Other solar technologies aren’t faring so hot either. After inking gigawatts of contracts to sell electricity to utilities, particularly in California, solar thermal power plant developers aren’t winning many new contracts in the U.S. these days. Solar thermal technology uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight to generate steam and run turbine-generators. Before the Monday announcement, Siemens was in the business of building solar power plants using photovoltaic panels (with solar cells inside) and also solar thermal technology.

The German company said it will focus its renewable energy business on wind and hydropower instead. Siemens will continue to sell the equipment that makes up a solar power plant, though, such as steam turbines and machines to control a power plant or grid operations, but those products have always come from other business groups, not the solar and hydro division.

  1. Yet another solar failure. Solar power belongs to the small businesses and not the likes of mega corporations.

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    1. Well,both types of companies have a role to play. Siemens has put money into small businesses to help them with technology development and marketing/sales.

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    2. I agree 100%! PV manufacturing will stabilize, and proven technologies will reign supreme.

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  2. Siemens thought solar was like wind, and they could just slap their name on other firms’ equipment and installation, along with their gross margins. Their team was livid when I told them their prices were 50% higher than the competition; the only surprising thing about this announcement is that it took so long to occur.

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  3. It is clear. Germans are good at machine engineering. While thay cannot compete with cheap chinese solar manufacturers, they can be ahead in wind and hydropower because their technical excellence cannot be easily matched. As example, BMW, Audi, Daimler Benz.

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  4. Now I know complete bullshit when I see it! People let me tell you something. They are building a solar aggregation plant, the very type that Siemens indicates there is no money in, one hour away from downtown Las Vegas. Ok the plant cost 1.4 billion and outputs power for 170,000 homes.

    Lets do the math!!!! The F*!King math OK! 1.4 billion divide by 170000=8235.29
    Ok thats what each home owner would have to pay to get power from the company
    that built this plant. 8235.29 divided by 5 years or 60 months = 137.25 a month.

    Plug in your electric car with that, power the town, what the heck build ten more of these plants and power the entire state, and guess what build another 10 more and then build factories that build nothing all the parts that make more of these plants. People you can be this stupid……

    There is enough solar aggregation power in Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, and New Mexico, to power the entire country and split enough sea water to make hydrogen for every car and truck in North America……this is all a very stupid lie that Siemens is going along with so that you can be slaves to fossil fuels till you puke your lungs out !

    Get on line and look at the one they built in Spain….its called Gemasolar….People wake up the banks, energy companies, and politicians have you brain washed.

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    1. Tom,

      You have used a lot of words, but I have no idea what you are trying to say…..

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  5. before everything goes down, siemens backed out. The threat by low price offered by chinese competitor is very hard to compete with. Competition is not healthy when monopolization is clear in the market.

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  6. Businesses, such as Siemens are formed to provide products and services at a profit. Their success or failure is dependent on whether or not there are “customers with money.” The solar industry is lacking “customers with money” as ordinary people who would greatly benefit from power generated from solar technology do not earn enough income to support purchasing the solar products.

    AND NO ONE is asking the question? Who should be the beneficiaries of the ownership of this massive productive capital investment funded by taxpayers and utility ratepayers?

    Although the U.S. pioneered photovoltaic solar cells decades ago, it has fallen increasingly behind lower-cost manufacturers of the technology in countries that offer low-cost labor and few environmental restrictions, including China, South Korea and Malaysia. The cheap panels have been fueling a fast-growing solar consumer market in the U.S. and have opened vast opportunities for service-sector jobs in the sunlight-extraction business.

    Although American scientists are still at the forefront of emerging solar research, the challenge is how can we make traditional solar panels at the lowest cost and continue to innovate with new technology that delivers greater performance at less cost?

    Part of the problem is that the U.S. government has held back with a lack of government initiatives to support the unleashing of the full technological power of computerized robotic superautomated manufacturing, which would significantly lower costs but employ far less people. What consistently is missed is the necessity to unlock job-destroying technology with the empowerment for ordinary citizens––working people, the middle class and the poor––to benefit from insured capital credit to become individual owners of new productive capital that will bolster our manufacturing capabilities and at the same time significantly improve quality and performance and lower costs of products and service as investment in the American economy grows. This will result in “real” job creation with more and more people earning two incomes, one from their labor worker input and a second income from their capital worker input, which over time will become their dominant source of economic security.

    What is needed is a massive loan guarantee economic growth plan with aims to balance production and consumption by empowering EVERY American to acquire private, individual ownership in future income-producing productive capital investments and pay for their loans out of the earnings of the investments.

    The government, through the stimulus program, has been giving taxpayer grants to companies with the goal of generating “employment.” For the most part these are not loans or loan guarantees, thus there is no provision for a first-position recoupment position. There is no employee ownership stipulation. The government should always require broadened ownership, in companies the financial assist, of the productive capital assets among the employees, who would pay back their acquisition of ownership out of the earnings of the investment.

    What is missing form the dialogue about solar and alternative development of energy and the transmission thereof is the ownership structure of advanced renewable energy system development. As is often the case the U.S. Department of Energy is involved in providing loans or loan guarantees, as well as research grants. Should any development of renewable energy systems involve taxpayer monies, the government should require that the utility users/customers share in the private, individual ownership of the development, turning every customer into an owner of the power utility. This can be accomplished by forming a for-profit, professionally managed, citizen-owned “Community Investment Corporation” (CIC) or Citizens Land Bank (CLB) (www.http://cesj.org/homestead/strategies/community/cic-full-nk.html).

    Today we accept as normal public ownership of gigantic capital instruments like mass rail, subways, government office buildings, universities, water systems, and power systems. These government-owned enterprises and services could be transformed into competitive private sector companies managed by Private Facilities Corporations with the use of the asset or facility leased to the normal using body. The wages of the Private Facilities Corporation(s) are passed through to the leasing body. This would allow us to build the ownership of what is now public capital into individuals and reduce the cost of government, including public pension systems. Thus, when you build the ownership into the employees of the Private Facilities Corporation(s), who now have a vested interest in its quality of operation and maintenance, the contracted lease rental fee committed by the government entity will give the employee stockholders a reasonable return and lesson or replace the need for supplemental redistribution programs. Consumer Stock Ownership Plan financing can simultaneously build the ownership into the consumers of monopolies such as telecommunications, water and power companies, mass-transit, and even cable and satellite television, who are the source of all their funding, and dividends paid out to the consumer owners would become an offset to their utility bills.
    While financial support from the government is the purpose of the stimulus program, the structure of the support should be in the form of insured loans as restructuring and investment capital. Such a financial mechanism should be put in place that will guarantee loan risks provided by banks and lending institutions. Otherwise, the system will continue to limit access to capital acquisition to those who already own capital—the rich.

    Criteria must be created to qualify the corporations subject to this policy and those corporations that qualify overseen so as to insure that their executives exercise prudent fiduciary responsibility to generate loan payback. Once the guaranteed loans are paid back, the new capital formation will continue to produce income for existing and future owners.

    The companies receiving such financial support should always qualify as succeeding companies within a major industry with long-term productivity growth potential with the resulting benefit of promoting the diffusion of advanced technology into civilian industries. The loans should be used to modernize and build new superautomated and computerized robotic assemblies. Where necessary the monies should be used for supplemental retraining of labor workers to qualify them for the new jobs created. Most important, the profits from the investments should be fully paid out to new capitalists owners––the corporate employees. This should be a condition to receive the capital investment loans. The goal would be to create new capitalist owners simultaneously with the growth of the economy financed with government loan support. The profits would represent wealth created by public capital invested in such companies and industries.

    The desired result would be to decrease, rather than increase, the existing concentration of productive capital ownership and thus economic power in the hands of a minority. The credit mechanisms supported by the government would not involve the expenditure of any tax money and would support profit-making operations for the primary purpose of earning dividends for the companies’ stockholders, including the newly created capitalist owners. Businesses supported by such credit mechanisms would have a profit motive and operate with the requirement for efficiency imposed by a market economy.

    The goal would be to broaden the ownership of private corporations so as to make the interests of private industry more synonymous with the public interest and vice versa––while broadening private enterprise capitalism to include everyone in the society. Such policies and programs aimed at broadening productive capital ownership would foster extensive utilization of the most modern and efficient technological innovations and result in the revitalization of American free-enterprise capitalism mirrored in a strong growth-projected economy.

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