|Brian Harrison, CEO
Bill Stover, CFO
|Revenue||$100 million (2009)
$140 Million (2010)
|Owner||George Kaiser Family Foundation,
U.S. Venture Partners,
Virgin Green Fund,
Madrone Capital Partners,
RockPort Capital Partners,
Argonaut Private Equity,
Masdar and Artis Capital Management.
Number of employees
Solyndra was a manufacturer of cylindrical panels of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin film solar cells based in Fremont, California. Although the company was once touted for its unusual technology, plummeting silicon prices led to the company's being unable to compete with conventional solar panels made of crystalline silicon. The company filed for bankruptcy on September 1, 2011.
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.
The solar panels developed by the company were claimed to be unlike any other product ever tried in the industry. The panels were made of racks of cylindrical tubes (also called tubular solar panels), as opposed to traditional flat panels. Solyndra rolled its CIGS thin films into a cylindrical shape and placed 40 of them in each 1-meter-by-2-meter panel. Solyndra designers thought the cylindrical solar panels absorbed energy from any direction (direct, indirect, and reflected light).
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, then sealed with glass and metal to exclude moisture, which erodes CIGS's performance. The hermetic sealing technology is commonly used in fluorescent lamps.
When combined with a white roof (the fastest growing segment of the commercial roof industry with over 1 billion square feet installed in 2008 and required for any new commercial construction in California), 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. (Note: it is difficult to cite a specific reference for this because the exact gain depends on the latitude of the installation (i.e. 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 Institute, among others. However, this report is not available on-line.)
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. 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.
The company claimed the cells themselves convert 12 to 14 percent of sunlight into electricity, an efficiency better than competing CIGS thin-film technologies. However, these efficiencies are for the cells laid flat. 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%.
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.
Management and investors
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.
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 – 2 billion. In 2010, revenues were approximately $140 million.
Solyndra received a $535 million U.S. Energy Department 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. By 2014 the loan program had wiped out its losses, including a $528 million loss from Solyndra, and was operating in the black. Additionally, Solyndra received a $25.1 million tax break from California's Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority.
Following the bankruptcy, the government was 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 solar-panel makers for alleged price fixing. The outcome 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. As of April 2016, Solyndra's suit against Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd. has not yet settled.
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, the company announced on 3 November 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.
On March 20, 2009, Solyndra estimated that:
- 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.
Shutdown and investigation
Between 2009 and mid-2011 the price of polysilicon, the key ingredient for most competing technologies, dropped by about 89%. This precipitous drop in the cost of raw materials for Solyndra's competitors rendered CIGS technology incapable of competing. 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.
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. The company was also sued by employees who were abruptly laid off. Solyndra was raided by the FBI investigating the company. 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. Also, in September 2011, the US Department of the Treasury launched an investigation. Bloomberg reported in 2011 that Solyndra's $733 million plant had whistling robots and spa showers, along with many other signs of extravagant spending.
Also in 2011, a US Department of the Treasury official confirmed that the criminal probe of Solyndra is focused on whether the company and its officers misrepresented the firm’s finances to the government in seeking the loan or engaged in accounting fraud. Newly revealed emails showed that the Obama administration had concerns about the legality of the Department of Energy's loan restructuring plan and warned OMB director Jeffrey D. Zients that the plan should be cleared with the Department of Justice first, which the Department of Energy had not done. The emails also revealed that as early as August 2009, an aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had asked a Department of Energy official if he could discuss any concerns among the investment community about Solyndra but that the official dismissed the idea that Solyndra had financial problems. The bankruptcy court approved the hiring of the chief restructuring officer Todd Neilson. Rocket Renewables (rocketrenewables.com) incorporated in Delaware with Gronet as the President and CEO. On May 20, 2013, Rocket Renewables filed for a corporation license in California.
In 2012, a very small fraction of the glass tubes, which Solyndra had produced, became part of an art installation at the University of California Botanical Garden. Also in 2012, the US Department of Justice objected to the bankruptcy plan amidst allegations that "the plan's primary purpose is tax avoidance through the preservation of hundreds of millions of dollars of net operating losses (NOL) after reorganization". Also, the successor company is named 360 Degree Solar Holdings, Inc., which would have control over "approximately US$ 350 million in tax attributes", such as NOL carryovers. 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." "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."
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. The Wall Street Journal described the advertising campaign as "perhaps the biggest attack on Mr. Obama so far."
In 2013, Elevated Design LLC filed as a Domestic in California. Gronet became an officer of Elevated Design LLC. This filing was canceled sometime later. The Contra Costa Times reported that Gronet was unlikely to face criminal charges in connection with Solyndra. In August 2015, the Inspector General of the U.S. Energy Department put most of the blame for the incident on Solyndra. On 21 March 2016, Gronet incorporated a company named 4th-Phase, Inc., doing business as 4th-Phase Washington, Inc. in Delaware.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Solyndra.|
- Official website (Archive)
- Solyndra and the DOE Loan Guarantee Program: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, One Hundred Twelfth Congress, First Session, September 14, 2011
- The Solyndra Failure: Views from Department of Energy Secretary Chu: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, One Hundred Twelfth Congress, First Session, November 17, 2011
- Jon Stewart criticizes Obama White House On Solyndra, (with video from The Daily Show), NPR, September 16, 2011
- Remarks by the President on the Economy, Transcript of speech by President Obama at Solyndra on May 26, 2010, whitehouse.gov