Back in late 2009 I attended the ground breaking ceremony for Solyndra’s solar panel factory, which was partly funded by a $535 million loan guarantee. The event featured a live video speech from Vice President Joe Biden, and was attended by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This week, almost 20 months later, I visited the factory, which is now set to produce 200 MW of its tube-shaped solar panels annually, and the company hopes to boost that to 300 MW worth of solar panels produced annually by 2013.
It’s taken around a billion dollars in private equity and a coveted loan guarantee to get to this point. Solyndra’s Director of Corporate Communications, David Miller, who gave me a tour of the factory, told me that Solyndra will be closing on one more financing round in the near future, which should help the company reach a cash flow positive state in the fourth quarter of this year. We hit $140 million in revenues in 2010, and that will grow substantially this year, Miller said.
Miller showed me all the machines that together produce Solyndra’s unusual tubular solar systems. Those include machines that spray Solyndra’s solar materials — copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) — onto uniform layers on tubes, machines that place the materials into glass tubes, machines that insert gas-filled bags into the tubes, machines that spray inert gas into the tubes, and machines that assemble the tubes into the racking system. It’s a complex process, that has been a costly effort, but Solyndra says as it scales up manufacturing its costs are dropping.
Here are my photos from the tour: