Solar Takes Some Hits

Two years ago, GE announced plans to double its investment to $600 million in its Aurora, Colorado solar panel manufacturing plant. GE said the plant would create 400 jobs.

GE entered the solar panel business in 2007 when it invested in Prime Star Solar, and then bought the company outright.

At the time of its Aurora announcement, GE said it expected solar panels to become a “multibillion” dollar business.

It’s worth remembering that the Department of Energy (DOE) had given $3 million to Prime Star Solar to develop the technology. Though this was small potatoes alongside the $500 Solyndra debacle, it’s still an example of taxpayer money being wasted.

Now GE is dumping the business.

GE Company, Schenectady, Edison Avenue entrance. Photo by D. Dears
GE Company, Schenectady, Edison Avenue entrance. Photo by D. Dears


GE sold its cadmium telluride thin-film technology to First Solar for 1.75 million shares of First Solar stock, giving GE a 2% stake in First Solar. At the time of the sale, First Solar stock was selling for approximately $50 per share: Today it’s selling for approximately $41.

GE has taken a hit, but I suspect it never expected to gain very much from the sale.

GE can’t sell its First Solar stock for three years, so GE could lose a lot more, or still come out ahead, but its real gains were from not investing more money in the solar panel business; i.e., not throwing good money after bad.

GE will still manufacture inverters and provide financing for solar installations.

The inverter business is low tech, not something on which GE should focus. My first exposure to inverters was when we installed one in our apartment in New York City over sixty years ago, because we were getting our electricity from one of the few remaining DC power plants.

Meanwhile, First Solar reported a 70% drop in profit, due, apparently, to delayed sales.

Solar energy took another hit in early August, when the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities warned municipalities that savings from installing solar panels were small, and not what was being promoted by people in the industry.

And then there was the NY Times article on May 29, this year, when it reported that PV solar panels were failing.

PV Panels, made by a US manufacturer, installed on a Los Angeles warehouse, failed after two years, rather than lasting their 25-year predicted life. In other failures, the industry is pointing its finger at Chinese manufacturers.

Unfortunately, no one knows the exact extent of the problem, as confidentiality agreements keep names out of the news, but failures seem to be widespread.

The NY Times reported,  “All solar panels degrade and gradually generate less electricity over time. But a review of 30,000 installations in Europe by the German solar monitoring firm Meteocontrol found 80 percent were underperforming.”

In another example of solar industry problems, BlueChip Energy, Lake Mary, Florida, failed earlier this year.

Approximately 300 homeowners who installed BlueChip Energy’s PV solar panels, are now not sure their $40,000 to $60,000 installations are going to last. It was also reported that panels had forged UL labels, which raises the specter of the panels being a fire hazard.

In addition, a $1.5 million stimulus grant to BlueChip Energy, may not be recovered by the government.

The plight of Florida homeowners should be a cautionary tale for those who are thinking about installing PV solar panels.

The PV solar industry must clean up its act and produce reliable, safe products.

GE’s dumping of its PV solar panel business may bring some realism to how PV solar is valued, and recognition of how inefficient PV solar panels really are.



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