Skip to Content

Why Solar Giant SunEdison Might Be Doomed

Once one of the biggest names in solar, the troubled energy company faces lawsuits, huge debts, and possible bankruptcy.

Shares of SunEdison were up more than 10 percent Tuesday after the cancellation of the solar giant’s disastrous acquisition of residential solar developer Vivint. The $2.2 billion deal fell apart after billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper sued to block it—but the real cause was less Tepper’s objections and more SunEdison’s overall financial disarray.

Despite the bump in stock price, the troubled company, based in Saint Peters, Missouri, is far from turning itself around. SunEdison, which has seen $10 billion in market value evaporate over the last year, has been justifiably called “the biggest corporate implosion in U.S. solar history,” as its strategy of acquiring seemingly every solar power company in sight hasn’t panned out. Under CEO Ahmad Chatila, the company has spent billions to acquire solar developers around the world, piling up nearly $12 billion in debt.

The company’s complex financial structure is only making matters worse. In 2014 SunEdison created a pair of “yieldcos”—publicly traded subsidiaries created to own completed solar projects. Yieldcos have become a favored structure for big solar companies because of the tax benefits and cash flow they provide, but at least in SunEdison’s case, Wall Street has soured on the strategy. The crash in its stock left SunEdison unable to shoulder the Vivint purchase or to complete other signed deals.

Now the company almost certainly faces a lawsuit from Vivint. It’s already being sued by Latin America Power, which it agreed to purchase for $733 million, and it faces millions of dollars in penalties for last month’s cancellation of planned solar projects for Hawaiian Electric.

The company has also delayed its 2015 earnings report while it conducts an internal investigation into the accuracy of its financial disclosures. In a statement, the company said that inquiry could cause the company to “reassess its liquidity position.” In other words, SunEdison, once the world’s largest developer of renewable energy projects (and No. 6 on MIT Technology Review’s 2015 list of 50 smartest companies), could file for bankruptcy very soon.

(Read more: Reuters, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it
Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it

The US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage is a mess. We have the data to show it.

The US government’s China Initiative sought to protect national security. In the most comprehensive analysis of cases to date, MIT Technology Review reveals how far it has strayed from its goals.

Image of workers inspecting solar panels at a renewable energy plant
Image of workers inspecting solar panels at a renewable energy plant

Renewables are set to soar

The world will likely witness a wind and solar boom over the next five years, as costs decline and nations raise their climate ambitions.

light and shadow on floor
light and shadow on floor

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

We won’t know how bad omicron is for another month

Gene sequencing gave an early alert about the latest covid variant. But we'll only know if omicron is a problem by watching it spread.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.