SoloPower Plant Closing, Mere Months After Opening

SoloPower, we hardly new ye.

Mere months after the maker of cutting-edge solar panels opened a manufacturing plant here in Portland, Ore., backed at all levels of government, it is suspending operations. The Oregonian newspaper broke the news on Monday after catching wind of a plant-closing notice that SoloPower had delivered to the state workforce development agency.

This appears to be one of those suspensions that is likely not to end.

solopower portland

image via Pete Danko/EarthTechling

“SoloPower’s decision to reduce its operations in the Portland facility is expected to be permanent,” the Oregonian said, quoting from the notice.

SoloPower won state and local loans and tax credits valued around $35 million with the promise of annually spooling out, eventually, 400 megawatts of lightweight and flexible PV panels perfect for commercial and industrial rooftops unable to handle standard hard panels and racks. That production level was going to translate to 450 employees, according to plans.

Never happened. Never came close to happening. The Portland plant opened with 60 employees but in the closing notice SoloPower said its workforce was down to a mere 29 souls. Earlier this month the company laid off 61 employees at its San Jose headquarters.

SoloPower received a $197 million loan guarantee through the same U.S. Department of Energy program that backed doomed Solyndra, but it appears as though none of that money was ever used. The DOE was requiring the company to have its first high-volume manufacturing line up and running before releasing funds. SoloPower said in September that it expected that to happen sometime “in the next two quarters,” but instead of gearing up after the ribbon-cutting, the company’s Portland operation withered away.

What went wrong for SoloPower? It had an interesting product, for sure, but its panels were much less efficient than standard silicon and even other thin-film panels. And it was more expensive than alternatives – with the gap growing as PV prices continued to fall in response to market oversupply. In an interview with EarthTechling last summer, Lux Research analyst Fatima Toor expressed grave doubts about SoloPower’s ability to compete.

So add SoloPower to the pile of solar carnage – but remember, even as the manufacturing sector struggles, solar is getting cheapereasier and more efficient – and solar is growing.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • jlmur

    “Failure is just the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” –Henry Ford, who went bankrupt 5 times.

    • Carbonicus

      Henry Ford had a product that people wanted, that worked, that wasn’t attempting to defy the laws of physics and economics, but rather harness them.
      Get off the green Kool Aid, dude.

  • Carbonicus

    Newflash to all planet saving green collectivists:

    your wind, solar, biofuels, biomass, alt. energy plan to save the world from the ravages of “climate change” is folly. not gonna work, not gonna happen. there is no climate crisis and your utopian ideals won’t be able to defy the laws of physics and economics. and there’s been no statistically significant warming in over 15 years.
    the stone age didn’t end for lack of stones, and the oil age will end, but not for lack of oil (that much should be obvious with new horizontal drilling/fracking, etc.). but when the oil age ends, it won’t be for any of your favored present “alternatives”. you have an energy density problem that will not be overcome by wind, solar, biofuel, and biomass. go complain to a physicist.

    when I landed here and saw ads for “Columbia University Masters in Sustainability Management” along with articles describing how EPA says the ethanol mandate isn’t driving up fuel prices, or “how to boost electric car sales”, I knew I was dealing with green utopian collectivists.
    your intentions are probably good. some of you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/petedanko Pete Danko

      Which story has the EPA saying “the ethanol mandate isn’t driving up fuel prices”? I know Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee looking into the issue but hadn’t heard any outcome of that inquiry. I occasionally miss some of the partner content we publish; can you point me to the article you’re referring to? Sounds interesting.

    • Carbonicus

      first story in “Popular Stories” on the page you are looking at right now.
      thank you for exposing US low-information crowd to the real story behind alternatives. keep it up.
      suggest you get to work on the California Condors being killed by wind turbines.
      28 ducks land in an unlined oil lagoon, and the petrochem company gets fined under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
      California Condors get chopped up by wind turbines, but the wind industry lobby has secured for itself an exemption from the MBTA. And I’m not counting the hawks, eagles, songbirds, and ducks/geese that are being killed. A helluva lot more than 28.
      Modern environmentalism is like a chapter of the Twilight Zone. Better wake up.