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Weeding Out Solar Companies

Due to the credit freeze, Optisolar falters and rising star First Solar expands.
March 3, 2009

Experts have long been predicting a winnowing of the solar industry. High prices for solar panels in recent years, due to a silicon shortage, had helped companies with expensive technologies survive. As more silicon became available, they predicted, prices would fall, forcing the less competitive companies, often startups, to call it quits. Now it looks as though frozen credit markets are also promoting the consolidation of the solar market.

First Solar, a company based in Tempe, AZ, whose thin-film solar cells are very cheap to make, is taking over solar farm projects that were originally going to be supplied by its competitor, Optisolar, a startup based in Hayward, CA. These projects include a contract for a large, 550-megawatt solar installation that Optisolar won last year. The startup couldn’t raise the money it needed to scale up production to fulfill its contract and has announced massive layoffs.

The move is part of First Solar’s strategy to not only make solar cells, but also install them in solar farms. The acquisition of Optisolar’s projects also guarantees a market for First Solar’s solar panels as the company continues to increase its manufacturing capacity.

The news hasn’t all been bleak for the solar industry. The recent stimulus bill could help keep hope alive for solar startups by providing tax incentives.

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