Michigan Solar Maker Suspends Production

Already shrinking, Energy Conversion Devices became even smaller this week as a period of wrenching adjustment continued for U.S. solar photovoltaic manufacturers. The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company, best known by its subsidiary United Solar, maker of the Uni-Solar thin-film solar laminates, said it would “temporarily idle its manufacturing facilities as an inventory management measure,” resulting in layoffs for 400 employees in Michigan, Mexico and Ontario.

Uni-Solar panels don’t have the efficiency of traditional solar PV panels; their appeal is how easily they can be integrated into a building’s architecture. An example would be the company’s project in Nice, France, completed earlier this year. But clearly there weren’t enough of those projects to keep the company humming.

Energy Conversion Devices financial problems

image via United Solar

“With reductions in incentives in our core European markets and a volatile credit market, solar projects are having tremendous difficulty closing,” Jay Knoll, the company’s interim president, said in a statement. “These factors combined with a flood of cheap modules from foreign manufacturers have created an environment where very few projects are getting completed without self-financing and steep discounts. The economics of this environment require us to rethink our approach to the sales process and rationalize our cost structure, both of which are currently underway.”

The company said it would continue to sell inventory on hand, and hoped to resume production “as soon as possible once the existing inventory has been sold and market conditions warrant.” It said a return to normal production levels could come within 60 days. Meanwhile, the company said it would move forward on a restructuring begun in May, “focusing on reducing cost, expanding addressable markets and enhancing its technology.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.