A View from Martin LaMonica
Concentrating Solar PV Company Amonix Shutters Factory
Government-backed Amonix closes down factory, a sign of tough times in solar and particularly for more complex concentrating photovoltaic technology.
Solar company Amonix, which was backed by government incentives, is shutting down a factory in Nevada a year after it opened and is selling off equipment.
Amonix, which makes utility-scale concentrating photovoltaic systems, plans to close down its 214,000-square-foot facility in North Las Vegas by August, the company said in a statement issued today.
The restructuring was due to “intense competition, the challenging solar energy equipment pricing environment and lower than anticipated demand for CPV (concentrated photovoltaic) solar energy in Nevada and other states in the U.S. southwest,” it said.
The company was offered $5.9 million in federal tax credits to build the plant. But because it hasn’t earned any taxable income, it won’t be able to take advantage of that government incentive, it said.
The Las Vegas Review Journal first reported the Las Vegas plant closing yesterday, saying that the company had received federal aid and the factory’s opening was touted by numerous politicians, including senator Harry Reid.
The factory shutdown is the latest in a long string of bankruptcies and restructurings going on at solar companies around the world. Solar panels prices have plummeted in the past three years, driven by the massive scale-up of Chinese manufacturers.
Amonix, and concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) technology in general, won a vote of confidence in 2010 by attracting $129 million in investment from venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.
But in this commodity product environment, more complicated CPV technology is apparently having difficulty competing on price and remains a niche product. CPV systems use mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight onto high-efficiency solar cells to squeeze the most power possible from a collector. These solar arrays, which operate with two-axis trackers to follow the sun, only work in areas with high irradiance, such as the southwest U.S.
The Nevada factory for Amonix, which has its roots in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, was supposed to employ 300 people. The plant was busy for some months supplying equipment to the largest CPV plant in the world, a 30-megawatt plant in Alamosa County, Colorado, which began operating in May this year. That utility-scale generating plant, built and operated by Cogentrix, received a $90 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.
Politicians and some media outlets have already pounced on the plant closing as another example of ineffective Obama administration policies around renewable energy. Politico points out that Amonix received $8.2 million in research grants during the Bush administration and $7.4 million under Obama.
Not only fledgling solar companies are feeling the pain from the solar industry shakeout. Shortly after thin-film solar startup Abound Solar shut down, energy industry giant General Electric also said it will postpone construction of its planned solar panel factory to improve its solar cell efficiency in order to better compete.