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Another Thin-Film Solar Casualty?

• Martin LaMonica via TechnologyReview.com
 

Need a reminder of how brutal the solar provider industry is? Consider the recent history of SoloPower. 

The San Jose, Calif.-based company this week said it is scaling back operation at its Portland, Oregon factory and is seeking a “strategic partner” to invest in the company. CEO Rob Campbell told me that the company will require more capital to get SoloPower’s factory to operate at full steam. “As with any new technology, it’s taken a little longer than we had planned to get operational,” Campbell says. “We had to scale back for the moment until we secure investment support.”

The company received a package of state aid to open the facility to turn out flexible solar collectors design for commercial rooftops. SoloPower was also awarded a $197 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy but it has yet to tap those funds. Because it uses similar technology and received a loan guarantee, SoloPower has drawn comparisons to infamous producer Solyndra. (See, A Startup That Isn’t Afraid of Solyndra’s Ghost.)

In a notice to Oregon state officials, the company’s chief legal officer JulianBiggs says that a “significant downturn in business and the need for a major reorganization” has led the company to lay off 29 employees and reduce its operations in Portland, according to The Oregonian. The company reportedly has laid off 65 employees from its San Jose, California headquarters, too. 

In February, the company said that it began shipments to customers from its facility, which was commissioned last September. But scaling back in an environment where dozens of solar companies have gone out of business is not a good sign for any small provider seeking to crack into the solar market. Another thin-film solar company, Nanosolar, had to lay off employees and seek additional capital, while Miasole was bought by a Chinese energy company a great loss to investors.

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