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Solyndra Corporation
Company typeStart-up company
FounderChristian Gronet
Key people
Brian Harrison, CEO
Bill Stover, CFO
Revenue$100 million (2009)
$140 million (2010)
OwnerGeorge Kaiser Family Foundation,
U.S. Venture Partners,
CMEA Ventures,
Redpoint Ventures,
Virgin Green Fund,
Madrone Capital Partners,
RockPort Capital Partners,
Argonaut Private Equity,
Masdar and Artis Capital Management
Number of employees
1,100 (approx)
WebsiteOfficial Website (Archive from September 23, 2011)

Solyndra was a manufacturer of cylindrical panels of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin film solar cells based in Fremont, California. Heavily promoted as a leader in the sustainable energy sector for its unusual technology, Solyndra was not able to compete with conventional solar panel manufacturers of crystalline silicon.[1] In 2009, the Obama administration co-signed $535 million loans to Solyndra.[2]

The company filed for bankruptcy on September 1, 2011.[3][4]


Solyndra designed, manufactured, and sold solar photovoltaic (PV) systems composed of panels and mounting hardware for large, low-slope commercial rooftops. The panels perform optimally when mounted horizontally and packed closely together, the company claimed, covering significantly more of the typically available roof area and producing more electricity per rooftop on an annual basis than a conventional panel installation.[5]

The company's panels were claimed to be unlike any other product ever tried in the industry: they were made of racks of cylindrical tubes (also called tubular solar panels), not traditional flat panels. Solyndra rolled its CIGS thin films into a cylindrical shape and placed 40 of them in each 1-by-2-metre (3 ft 3 in by 6 ft 7 in) panel. Solyndra designers thought the cylindrical solar panels absorbed energy from any direction (direct, indirect, and reflected light).[6]

Each Solyndra cylinder, one inch in diameter, is made up of two tubes. The company used equipment it had developed to deposit CIGS on the outside of the inner tube, which includes up to 200 CIGS cells. On top of the CIGS material, it added an "optical coupling agent", which concentrates the sunlight that shines through the outer tube. After inserting the inner tube into the outer tube, each cylinder is filled with a silicone oil,[7] then sealed with glass and metal to exclude moisture, which erodes CIGS's performance. The hermetic sealing technology is commonly used in fluorescent lamps.[8]

Solyndra module with characteristic tubes; Barack Obama, Chris Gronet (CEO), Ben Bierman (EVP)

When combined with a white roof,[a] the company claimed that systems that employ the panels on a given rooftop could produce significantly more electricity in a given year. It was thought that on a white roof, the panels can capture up to 20% more light than a black roof.[9][b]

The other advantage claimed by the company was that the panels did not have to move to track the Sun. The panels are always presenting some of their face directly perpendicular to the Sun.[10] The daily production of flat solar panels has an output curve that has a clear peak while Solyndra claimed their system produced more power throughout the day.

The Solyndra panels allow wind to blow through them. According to the company, these factors enable the installation of PV on a broader range of rooftops without anchoring or ballast, which are inherently problematic. Solyndra claimed that wind and snow loads are negligible and that its panels are lighter in weight per area.[6]

The company claimed the cells themselves convert 12 to 14 percent of sunlight into electricity, an efficiency better than competing CIGS thin-film technologies.[8] However, these efficiencies are for the cells laid flat.[11] The company did not post any numbers about performance when the cells are rolled up. The Solyndra 100/200 spec sheet doesn't mention the cells or the panel efficiencies directly. However, calculating from the data provided shows the high-end 210 panel has a field efficiency of about 8.5%.[12]

Chris Gronet founded what would become Solyndra in May 2005.[13] In 2006, Solyndra began deploying demonstration systems globally. The company stated the total count was 14 systems and that these systems were each instrumented with sensitive radiation, wind speed, temperature, and humidity measurement devices to aid in the development of energy yield forecasting software tools. The company's website claimed there were more than 1,000 Solyndra systems installed around the world, representing 100 megawatts of power.[14]

Management and investors[edit]

Brian Harrison, a veteran of Intel Corporation, briefly led Solyndra. He took the reins on July 27, 2010, less than a year before the company went bankrupt. Harrison replaced founder Chris Gronet who served as CEO since inception in 2005.[15]

Major investors included George Kaiser Family Foundation, U.S. Venture Partners, CMEA Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Virgin Green Fund, Madrone Capital Partners, RockPort Capital Partners, Argonaut Private Equity, Masdar and Artis Capital Management.[16]

In 2009, the company posted $100 million in revenue. It was estimated that its production and sales growth could lead to a market cap between $1.76 and 2 billion.[17] In 2010, revenues were approximately $140 million.[citation needed]

Government support[edit]

Solyndra received a $535 million U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee, the first recipient of a loan guarantee under President Barack Obama's economic stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.[18] The loan program took a $528 million loss from Solyndra.[19][20] Additionally, Solyndra received a $25.1 million tax break from California's Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority.[21] SoloPower also received similar funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.[22]

Following the bankruptcy, the government had expected to recoup $27 million under the Solyndra restructuring plan, or up to 100% of loaned funds from a $1.5 billion lawsuit filed against Chinese polysilicon solar-panel makers for alleged price fixing.[3] The outcomes of the lawsuits were that, in November 2015, Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd. settled a claim filed by Solyndra for $7.5 million, and in April 2016 Trina Solar Ltd. settled a claim filed by Solyndra for $45 million. In June 2016 a Stipulation Of Dismissal was filed jointly between Solyndra and Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd. and later signed by Hon. Saundra B. Armstrong on November 30, 2017.[23]


The company manufactured its products in its second fabrication plant, Fab 2, a new $733 million state-of-the-art robotic facility in Fremont, California, which opened in September 2010. Fab 2 was built with the support of a $535 million federal loan guarantee along with at least $198 million from private investors. According to an initial public offering by the company, the combined annual production capacity of the plants was projected to be 610 megawatts by 2013. After expanding production in 2008,[8] the company announced on November 3, 2010, that it was mothballing its older plant, Fab 1, and postponing expansion of recently opened Fab 2, giving it an annual production capacity of about 300 megawatts. Market conditions were cited, with conventional solar modules manufactured in China by low-cost producers such as Suntech and Yingli offering stiff competition.[24]

On March 20, 2009, Solyndra estimated that:[25]

  • The construction of this complex would employ approximately 3,000 people.
  • The operation of the facility would create over 1,000 jobs in the United States.
  • The installation of these panels would create hundreds of additional jobs in the United States.
  • The commercialization of this technology was expected to be then duplicated in multiple other manufacturing facilities.

On November 3, 2010, Solyndra said it would lay off around 40 employees and not renew contracts for about 150 temporary workers as a result of the consolidation.[24]

Shutdown and investigation[edit]

Solyndra facility in Fremont with a "For Sale" sign in September 2012. Seagate purchased the facility in 2013.

Between 2009 and mid-2011 the price of polysilicon, the key ingredient for most competing technologies, dropped by about 89% due to Chinese advances in the Siemens process.[26] This precipitous drop in the cost of raw materials for Solyndra's competitors rendered CIGS technology incapable of competing, and other factors, including a contemporaneous drop in the price of natural gas, together with the faltering of the corresponding financial models, also contributed to Solyndra's demise,[27] despite quickly raising capital.[28] On August 31, 2011, Solyndra announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, laying off 1,100 employees, and shutting down all operations and manufacturing.[29]

In September 2011 the company ceased all business activity, filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11, Title 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, and laid off all employees.[3][4][30] The company was also sued by employees who were abruptly laid off.[31] Solyndra was raided by the FBI investigating the company.[32] Federal agents visited the homes of Brian Harrison, the company's CEO, and Chris Gronet, the company's founder, to examine computer files and documents.[33] Also, in September 2011, the US Department of the Treasury launched an investigation.[34] Bloomberg reported in 2011 that Solyndra's $733 million plant had whistling robots and spa showers, along with many other signs of extravagant spending.[35]

Also in 2011, a US Department of the Treasury official confirmed that the criminal probe of Solyndra was focused on whether the company and its officers misrepresented the firm's finances to the government in seeking the loan or engaged in accounting fraud.[36] Emails showed that the Obama administration had concerns about the legality of the Department of Energy's loan restructuring plan and warned OMB director Jeffrey D. Zients that the plan should be cleared with the Department of Justice first, which the Department of Energy had not done. The emails also revealed that, as early as August 2009, an aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had asked a Department of Energy official if he could discuss any concerns among the investment community about Solyndra but that the official dismissed the idea that Solyndra had financial problems.[37] The bankruptcy court approved the hiring of the chief restructuring officer Todd Neilson.[38]

In 2012 a very small fraction of the glass tubes, which Solyndra had produced, became part of an art installation at the University of California Botanical Garden.[39] Also in 2012, the US Department of Justice objected to the bankruptcy plan amid allegations that "the plan's primary purpose is tax avoidance through the preservation of hundreds of millions of dollars of net operating losses (NOL) after reorganization".[40][41] Also, the successor company is named 360 Degree Solar Holdings, Inc., which would have control over "approximately US$350 million in tax attributes", such as NOL carryovers.[40] The case In re Solyndra LLC et al., No. 11-12799 (Bankr. D. Del.), Judge Mary F. Walrath of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware ruled "that the evidence does not support a finding that the principal purpose of the plan was tax avoidance."[30] "Solyndra's owners, Argonaut Ventures I LLC and Madrone Partners LP" will "realize the tax benefits of between $875 million and $975 million of net operating losses, while more senior creditors, including the Department of Energy, which provided a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, will receive nearly nothing."[30]

In 2011 and 2012, during Obama's re-election campaign, the political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity spent $8.4 million in swing states on television advertisements denouncing the loan guarantee.[3] The Wall Street Journal described the advertising campaign as "perhaps the biggest attack on Mr. Obama so far."[42]

Ultimately, none of the investigations of Solyndra found any evidence of wrongdoing or undue political influence.[43][44][45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ the fastest growing segment of the commercial roof industry, with over 36 sq mi (93 km2) installed in 2008 and required for any new commercial construction in California
  2. ^ It is difficult to cite a specific reference for this because the exact gain depends on the latitude of the installation (in other words, sun angle). Solyndra's on-line energy modeling tool allowed designers to specify the roof albedo, and energy output varied as a function of albedo. Twenty percent is cited as typical figure and was validated by careful testing and modeling by the Fraunhofer Society, among others. However, this report is not available on-line.


  1. ^ Lott, Melissa C. (September 27, 2011). "Solyndra — Illuminating Energy Funding Flaws?". Scientific American. Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  2. ^ Broder, John M (March 20, 2009). "Energy Department Issues First Renewable-Energy Loan Guarantee". The New York Times. ProQuest 1917598032. Retrieved February 18, 2022. The $535 million loan guarantee will go to Solyndra Inc. ... 'This investment is part of President Obama's aggressive strategy to put Americans back to work and reduce our dependence on foreign oil ... .
  3. ^ a b c d Bathon, Michael (October 17, 2012). "Solyndra Lenders Ahead of Government Won't Recover Fully". Bloomberg Business. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  4. ^ a b White, Ronald D. (September 1, 2011). "Solar panel firm Solyndra to cease operations". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 19, 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  5. ^ "New Shape of Solar". Solyndra, LLC. 2008. Archived from the original on October 17, 2010. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Biello, David (October 7, 2008). "Cylindrical Solar Cells Give a Whole New Meaning to Sunroof". Scientific American. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  7. ^ "Solyndra Photovoltaic 4 Watt CIGS Cylindrical Solar Tube". Archived from the original on May 15, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c Wang, Ucilia (October 7, 2008). "Solyndra Rolls Out Tube-Shaped Thin Film". Greentech Media. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  9. ^ "DDC, Cool and Green Roofing Manual.pdf" (PDF). New York City Department of Design and Construction. June 2005. p. 14. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  10. ^ Green, Hank (July 10, 2008). "Tubular Solar Panels Slash Costs, Boost Efficiency". EcoGeek. Archived from the original on September 10, 2011. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  11. ^ Ucilia Wang (July 16, 2009). "Solyndra Works on 1M Sq. Ft. Project in SoCal". Greentech Media. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  12. ^ "Solyndra 200 Spec sheet". Solyndra LLC. 2008. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  13. ^ Maize, Kennedy (June 2, 2014). "Sunburned: The Solyndra Story". Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved June 8, 2020.
  14. ^ "Technology/Performance, Proven Performance". Solyndra LLC. Archived from the original on April 30, 2012. Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  15. ^ "Brian Harrison Joins Solyndra as President and CEO". Solyndra LLC. July 27, 2010. Archived from the original on June 19, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  16. ^ Todd Woody (September 6, 2011). "Solyndra: Pay Some Investors Before Taxpayers In Solar Flame Out". Forbes. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  17. ^ Katie Fehrenbacher (March 19, 2010). "Solyndra's Estimated Market Cap Up to $2B: Report". Earth2Tech. GigaOM. Archived from the original on January 22, 2013. Retrieved April 6, 2010.
  18. ^ "After Solyndra Loss, U.S. Energy Loan Program Turning A Profit". Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  19. ^ "Obama's Solyndra Problem – Annenberg Public Policy Center". October 2011. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020.
  20. ^ Groom, Nichola (November 13, 2014). "Controversial U.S. energy loan program has wiped out losses". Reuters. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  21. ^ James Nash, Solyndra Case May Cause Scrutiny of Companies Seeking Tax Break Archived October 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Bloomberg Businessweek October 7, 2011
  22. ^ Maria Gallucci (October 9, 2012). "Is SoloPower the next Solyndra, or a solar power 'American success story'?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2018. a crucial step in getting its $197 million loan guarantee from the federal government. The money would flow from the same taxpayer-supported program that bet on bankrupt solar firm Solyndra.
  23. ^ "Solyndra, LLC v. Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. et al: Stipulation of Dismissal". Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved March 27, 2019 – via
  24. ^ a b Woody, Todd (November 3, 2010). "Solar-Panel Maker to Close a Factory and Delay Expansion". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
  25. ^ "Solyndra Offered $535 Million Loan Guarantee by the U.S. Department of Energy". News and Information, 2009. Solyndra LLC. March 9, 2009. Archived from the original on June 19, 2012. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  26. ^ Ikhlaq Sidhu; Shomit Ghose; Paul Nerger (January 2012). "Solyndra 2011 Case Study" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on December 22, 2015.
  27. ^ Juliet Eilperin (January 20, 2012). "Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust". Wired. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  28. ^ Donny Holaschutz (March 8, 2012). The Seeds of Solar Innovation: How a Nation Can Grow a Competitive Advantage (Thesis). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. p. 55. hdl:1721.1/70821. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
  29. ^ McGrew, Scott (August 31, 2011). "Solyndra to Declare Bankruptcy". NBC Bay Area. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  30. ^ a b c Elliott, Amy S. (October 2012). "2012 TNT 205-2 SOLYNDRA BANKRUPTCY PLAN CONFIRMED OVER IRS OBJECTIONS. (Section 269 – Acquisitions to Avoid Tax) (Release date: October 22, 2012) (Doc 2012-21818)". Tax Analysts – Tax Notes Today. 2012 TNT 205-2 (2012 TNT 205-2).
  31. ^ Baker, David R. (September 7, 2011). "Solyndra files bankruptcy, employees sue". The San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012.
  32. ^ Leonnig, Carol D. (September 8, 2011). "FBI searches shuttered Solyndra offices, plant in California". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020. Retrieved September 8, 2011.
  33. ^ "Feds Visit Homes of Solyndra CEO, Execs" Archived November 16, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, ABC News, September 8, 2011
  34. ^ Solyndra Loan: Now Treasury Dept. Is Launching Investigation Archived November 16, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, ABC News, 8 September 2011
  35. ^ Alison Vekshin; Mark Chediak (September 28, 2011). "Solyndra's $733 Million Plant Had Whistling Robots, Spa Showers". Bloomberg. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  36. ^ Chu takes responsibility for a loan deal that put more taxpayer money at risk in Solyndra Archived November 16, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Washington Post, September 29, 2011
  37. ^ Solyndra loan deal: Warning about legality came from within Obama administration Archived November 16, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Washington Post, October 7, 2011
  38. ^ "Solyndra Gets New Leader in Bankruptcy". The New York Times. October 13, 2011. Archived from the original on November 16, 2020.
  39. ^ "Solyndra Solar Tubes Reborn as Botanical Garden Sculpture". The Mercury News. August 22, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  40. ^ a b 2012 TNT 198-2 SOLYNDRA BANKRUPTCY PLAN SERVES TO AVOID TAX, DOJ INSISTS. (Section 172 – Net Operating Loss) (Release date: October 11, 2012) (Doc 2012-21090) AUTHOR: Trivedi, Shamik
  41. ^ 2012 TNT 198-11 BANKRUPTCY TRUSTEE OBJECTS TO CONFIRMATION OF SOLYNDRA BANKRUPTCY PLAN. (In re: Solyndra LLC et al.) (No. 11-12799) (United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware) (Section 382 – NOL Carryovers) (Release Date: 10 October 2012) (Doc 2012-21130)
  42. ^ Mullins, Brody (January 14, 2012). "Americans for Prosperity to Air Ads Slamming Obama's Ties to Solyndra". Washington Wire. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  43. ^ Ramani, Shyama V. (April 28, 2014). Nanotechnology and Development: What's in it for Emerging Countries?. Cambridge University Press. pp. 52–53. ISBN 978-1-139-91653-0 – via Google Books.
  44. ^ Goss, Brian Michael (April 6, 2021). "Making Watergate 'Look Like Child's Play': The Solyndra Discourse (2011–2012) as Flak". Media and Communication. 9 (2): 88–97. doi:10.17645/mac.v9i2.3692. ISSN 2183-2439. S2CID 233558513.
  45. ^ Davis, Lanny J. (March 5, 2013). Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life. Simon and Schuster. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-4516-7930-4 – via Google Books.

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