Blog Post

Chart: The death spiral of solar bankruptcies (& counting)

The solar death spiral has been long and ugly. Over the past year, there have been over a dozen stalwarts and startups that have headed to bankruptcy court.

Two companies even filed for bankruptcies in this week alone: manufacturer Q-Cells, which was the worlds largest solar cell maker in 2008 and power plant developer Solar Trust of America, which just a year ago was on its way to build a few gigawatts of solar projects in the American Southwest.

The fate of Solar Trust, which is mostly owned by Solar Millennium, is a reminder of the difficulties of shepherding a power plant project to completion, even when all the permits are in hand. Solar Trust’s crown jewel project was the 1 GW Blythe Solar farm in California, and at one point the company was set to snag a $2.1 billion federal loan guarantee to build it before it decided to withdraw from the loan guarantee process last summer and change the technology it would use for Blythe.

Solar Millennium tried to sell Solar Trust to a fellow German company, Solarhybrid, only to see Solarhybird, too, file for bankruptcy last month.

So here’s our tally of the solar company bankruptcies over the past year and there’s probably more that we haven’t heard about. Many of them are manufacturers who had a tough time dealing with lower-than-expected demand, plummeting prices and financial market turmoil.

Company HQ Primary business Date
Solyndra U.S. Solar panel maker August 2011
Evergreen Solar U.S. Solar panel maker August 2011
SpectraWatt U.S. Solar panel maker who sold all of its equipment for $4.9 million to Canadian Solar September 2011
Stirling Energy Systems U.S. Equipment and project developer September 2011
Photowatt France Solar panel maker (sold to EDF) November 2011
Solon Germany Solar panel maker, project developer (assets sold to Microsol) December 2011
BP Solar* U.K. *The energy giant didn’t file for bankruptcy but is winding down its solar business (equipment and installation). December 2011
Energy Conversion Devices U.S. Solar panel maker February 2012
SunConcept Germany Project developer February 2012
Ralos New Energies Germany Project developer February 2012
Scheuten Solar Netherlands Solar panel maker (its German subsidiary filed for bankruptcy); assets to be sold to Sunway February 2012
Solarhybrid Germany Project developer March 2012
Odersun Germany Solar panel maker March 2012
Q-Cells Germany Solar panel maker, project developer April 2012
Solar Trust of America U.S. Project developer (part of Solar Millennium) April 2012

Photo courtesy of Josh Giovo via Flickr

6 Responses to “Chart: The death spiral of solar bankruptcies (& counting)”

  1. They are failing due to lack of support in this country. China saw reality and opportunity and shoved politics aside for the future. Their gov. has been helping and dumping gobs of funding into renewable energy research and business. In the US, it is mocked by the conservatives as prissy and weak. Our fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold on the game since it donates so much to politicians on both sides of the aisle. There are no long term, serious tax incentive programs to rally interest in the purchase/use of these products in the residential markets. Municipalities are starting to see the benefits. I travel across the country and I see solar panels on telephone poles and solar farms more and more frequently. The American mentality needs to be defeated. By that I mean the attitude of selfishness and the macho attitudes of believing we do not have a fossil fuel problem, climate change is not real, etc. Whether you believe it or not, I pose a simple question – since we know for a fact fossil fuels pollute and that oil sales help fund terrorism in many ways…would it be so bad for all of us if we cut back the pollution and stopped funding criminals? China has a severe pollution/toxicity problem due to lack of regulation and corporate abuses. Because of this, they have been FORCED to find alternate solutions. They are succeeding and a viable, ‘way of the future’ industry is going to be dominated by them instead of the US. That is why it is failing here and why we are so incredibly foolish.

  2. gbrecke

    Remember the days of growth in the Solar Industry? When Installers were making a living? That was before Governments got involved and created insanely artificial reasons to invest. You’ll likely accept or reject the facts based on your own political bent. Do take notice that no one is interested in reporting the real cost per KWH after the install, just what is the real cost from the install at Alamosa? No one cares.. maybe not even the plant operator…

  3. Mike Heart

    What is the total number of solar companies we are talking about. Is this a large percentage of all solar companies or just a small fraction?

    • These are the companies I’ve come across, but the list is not meant to be exhaustive. There are probably solar companies that went out of business in China, for example, but they didn’t have to announce it or weren’t written up by the media.