Current Weather
The Spy FM

In Solyndra’s Wake, Solar Company Sees Bright Spot

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
September 27, 2012

A small solar power company hopes to become a winner in a market littered with losers.

San Jose, Calif.-based SoloPower is opening a $60 million manufacturing facility in Portland, Ore., Thursday as it works toward receiving a major government loan — like the one given to now-bankrupt Solyndra. SoloPower thinks it has a strategy to succeed where Solyndra failed.

SoloPower makes a niche product in a highly competitive market. It’s a lightweight and flexible solar panel, uniquely designed for commercial and industrial rooftops that can’t bear the weight of the older, heavy traditional modules, says CEO Tim Harris.

“Customers really like our product,” he says. “They like the fact that we understand how to design it for the lowest cost of installation.”

SoloPower has to get its Portland plant up and running, and meet other undisclosed benchmarks before it can tap into a $197 million loan from the Department of Energy. If all goes as planned, that will happen within a year.

‘Unproven, Untested’

Some industry analysts are skeptical, though, including Matt Feinstein of Boston-based Lux Research. He says SoloPower depends on prices that are too premium for its product.

“I don’t believe it’s a sound strategy without a significant gain in performance, and right now, we don’t think SoloPower has that performance advantage over the incumbents,” Feinstein says.

The incumbents Feinstein refers to are Chinese competitors.

Another analyst, Shyam Mehta of GTM Research in New York, says SoloPower has a niche product, but wonders about the size of its target market.

“Their technology is completely unique, and the performance of their panels in the field is pretty much unknown at this point,” he says. “So they have unproven, untested technology in terms of the power output.”

But SoloPower’s CEO disputes that, saying demand for his product is high, particularly overseas, outstripping ability to make it.

In Solyndra’s Shadow

Still, SoloPower can’t escape the comparisons with Solyndra. That company had potential, too, but industry post-mortems blame Solyndra’s bankruptcy on its business model, including high production costs.

Solyndra had more than $1 billion in private investment, but it also drew down half a billion dollars in federal loans without ever turning a profit.

On the other hand, SoloPower has raised $219 million in private capital. One of its key investors, John Cavalier, co-managing partner of Hudson Clean Energy, says taxpayers should know that the company won’t touch any federal money until it proves to be viable.

“We have not done so to date, and we will not do so until there is every confidence that everyone will view the loan to SoloPower as a very prudent investment in the company,” he says.

With the loan, SoloPower gets at least two things: the capital to ramp up new lines of production — creating possibly 400 new jobs — and $197 million worth of more scrutiny. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9PM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center