The US presidential election is over and half the country feels like a big black swan swooped down and left a very big and impolite reminder of its passage.

Black swan events are unexpected and have a traumatic effect on economies, governments, industries and people. Once the black swan departs the details of the surprise it represents are unpicked and everyone offers reasons why the event occurred. Remember derivatives and the housing crisis that took down the global economy, destroyed livelihoods, lives and damaged the global solar industry? Systems had been set up to create a landscape perfect for a black swan to swoop down and, well, leave an ugly reminder of its passage. People may have been shocked to find piles of unsecured debt underlying the global economy, but the signs were always there.

In 2016 Brexit seemed like a black swan event to those in the United Kingdom. In Venezuela the vote against the peace accord ending a 50 year seemed like a black swan event. In the US an undisciplined, angry, billionaire business man who insulted all his competitors was elected president.

In 2016 all around the world people have been voting their anger over the status quo, politics, immigration, and their economic prospects among other things. Amid the celebrations and wakes surrounding these momentous elections one thing seems clear – the signs of all these decisions were out in the open and should not have surprised anyone.

Polling Problems

During the US republican primary Mr. Trump behaved brashly, used his twitter account freely and insulted competitors and anyone seeming to disagree with him, and yet he kept winning primaries. Media pundits discussed this as a phenomenon and the polls continued to show him losing the primary. He won the Republican primary.

Following the Republican primary media pundits talked over what went wrong with the polls and the pollsters cried mea culpa and promised to do better.

During the general election most polls showed Mr. Trump behind – often well behind — Secretary Clinton. Throughout the election season Mr. Trump continued insulting his opponent and anyone who disagreed with him while tweeting his way through the early morning hours.

He also drew crowds to his rallies and he won the election.

Half of the US electorate and all of the media fell into deep shock. Unhappy voters began wondering if a move to Canada was possible. People wandered the streets muttering “how could this happen?” The media pondered what they missed and the pollsters cried mea culpa and promised to do better.

The US media as well as half the country missed what was directly and clearly in front of them the same deep, disenfranchised rage that was missed in the UK, in Venezuela and in many other voting countries during this year of voting angrily. It was obvious. It was seen. It was disregarded.

The pollsters, well, they failed to do their job correctly. Polling is a subset of market research that is, it is a research discipline. The researcher:

  • Establishes the population to be studied, including its size, and makes an assessment as to the sample size that would appropriately represent the whole population
  • Develops a survey instrument – even the simplest survey instrument has to be carefully crafted
  • Tests the survey instrument
  • Corrects the survey instrument
  • Gathers the data
  • Tests the data for validity
  • If necessary, a larger sample size is gathered

The researcher also understands that all surveys have bias. End user surveys, essentially polling, are highly vulnerable to bias. First, respondents often lie. Second, the analyst (or pollster) may have a bias for a certain result and may make assumptions that would force the poll in a certain direction.

The point of any market research is to set the experiment up so that the possibility of result altering bias is reduced.

In the case of the 2016 US presidential election incorrect polling during the Republican primary should have rung a really big bias warning bell and the pollsters should have course corrected. Doing so may not have changed a thing but it would have lessened the shock on Election Day.

Aftermath of the US election

The US election will have an effect on US climate policy potentially swaying it much more towards conventional energy including fracking for natural gas and oil and away from deployment of renewables and incentives towards this end. The Clean Power Plan as established will not survive and states will start pulling back plans – not all states, but many of them. After election concerns pertinent to the solar industry include:

  • The Three Branches of Government: The Republican Party now controls the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of government this means it controls the agenda followed by the country for at least two years until the midterm elections and potentially for decades because of the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court: The next justice will set the tone for the country on wide ranging cases including the Clean Power Plan.
  • The Clean Power Plan: President Elect Trump has vowed to turn back all reforms and likely will – and – cases reaching the Supreme Court may not fare well.
  • The DoE and NREL: The new president will select the energy secretary who will set the direction, tone and budget at the DoE. Funding for solar and all renewable energy generating technologies is at risk. Mr. Trump has chosen Republican Ken Blackwell to head the transition team for the DoE. Mr. Blackwell has lobbied on the behalf of Koch Companies, Southern Company and Dow Chemical among others.
  • The ITC: Though this is a bipartisan agreement and a law, it can be overturned by an act of congress. Best case, it continues as planned. Worst case it is overturned by the new president and congress. However, the odds of the ITC being overturned are low. Very low. Not worth betting on. Again, the ITC is a law and it was bipartisan.
  • The EPA: President Nixon, a republican, established the EPA so it is not a foregone conclusion that its powers will be decreased. However, the president appoints its administrator and President Elect Trump has chosen Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic to lead the EPA transition team.
  • The Paris Climate Change Agreement: President Elect Trump has made it clear that he plans to exit the agreement and he is likely to do so.

The US Market Going Forward

Just a few pre-election weeks ago the US was a stable market, at least for the commercial application. The commercial application includes utility scale, small to mid-market DG solar deployment and large wholesale DG deployment. The US presidential election inserted instability and shifted the focus back to oil, gas and coal A hiccup in the US market for solar deployment would affect business plans and forecasts for all participants and observers – globally – because the market for solar components and systems is global.

The focus on solar deployment in the US going forward is likely to be driven by the states and the ITC. Once it becomes clear that the ITC is not vulnerable stability should return to the US market for solar deployment.

Consulting   Market Research
Research as needed for projects On going primary survey (research) effort
General Knowledge over a wide range Expertise in subject, industry or technology area
High cost for last minute research, slow project turnaround High cost for on going research, quick project turnaround
Project based Product based
Typically high margins Typically medium to low margins
Deliverables generally built on secondary, public sources or internal estimates Deliverables generally based on primary survey effort, hard data with independent results
Company reputation and expertise key Analyst expertise and reputation key
Ability to compile and assess available information of high value to governments and company boards Market research based projects of high value for manufacturers, industry association, and investors, across industries
Need for company visibility via group papers and speaking Need for analyst visibility via publishing externally, and speaking
The company is the brand The analyst is a company brand
In general, consultants enjoy the ability to work on a wide variety of subjects, do not like being focused on one thing In general, analysts prefer to build on expertise in one area and do not like losing focus
Advantages for Consulting with Market Research: Advantages for Market Research with Consulting:
Quicker turnaround on projects Ability to focus on product development
Provides an original product that can be marketed and which can leverage higher margin business Participation in higher margin projects
Market Visibility Larger base of clients outside area of expertise
Higher volume Higher volume
Takes advantage of analyst reputation in market Potentially provides analyst with higher visibility
Disadvantages with Market Research: Disadvantages with Consulting:
In some cases, lower margins Misinterpretation of data and analysis by consultants
Consultant loses control of analysis to some degree Difficulty keeping up “wall” around confidential sources of data
Acceptance of Analyst expertise by consultants places consultants in the position of not being the expert Unrealistic expectations from internal clients
Selling market research products may take the place of higher volume projects with the result that it is better to lose the sale than sell the report., Unwillingness of consultants to sell market research products, lowering volume
Vulnerable position if analyst leaves as the analyst is a brand Potential loss of individual recognition
Analyst may be out of step with group dynamics Potential corruption of data and analysis
Outside firms may steal data and reproduce Outside firms may steal data and reproduce

Currently SunEdison faces at least 15 lawsuits. SunEdison, Terraform and other defendants asked to have the cases against them consolidated. Along with the lawsuits, from October 2015 through May 26 at least 20 security class actions have been filed against SunEdison its subsidiaries, officials and underwriters. Many of these actions relate to claims that investors were misled about the liquidity of SunEdison, et al.

Meanwhile, GCL-Poly wants to buy SunEdison’s (MEMC) polysilicon business for $150-million and those in charge of selling off the company bit by bit are eager to nail this bid down.

Comment: Potential buyers aren’t just circling overhead they are diving. Meanwhile, future investors in renewable funds should learn to think very carefully before investing the retirement funds of groups such as the Municipal Employee Retirement System of Michigan. The solar industry remains volatile and despite ongoing growth is still subject to heartbreaking, dream shattering and retirement income depleting crashes.

Lesson: SunEdison stands as a stark lesson in solar industry bad behavior. Hubris encouraged Icarus to fly too close to the sun. Overtime too many solar companies have followed his path up and unfortunately met the same fate.

Buckle up another module price war is afoot – or maybe it’s dumping or maybe it’s panicked selling or maybe it is the result of overcapacity and softening demand or maybe it is China’s government saying NO MORE to it’s out of control market and effectively stranding a whole lot of overcapacity or maybe it is all of the aforementioned. Pricing is always a complex subject.

The average price for modules from China is currently $0.60/Wp (and dropping) and the average price for smaller buyers is $0.66/Wp (and dropping). These are averages and there are prices for inventory as low as $0.33/Wp. There are modules available in the $0.49/Wp to $0.60/Wp range. The current trend in module prices is down, pressured by strong production levels in China during the first half of 2016 and a slowdown in deployment in China.

Comment: Module prices will be tumbling potentially through the end of the year. Look out for quality issues. Manufacturers in China have overproduced and with the Chinese government looking to control deployment many are looking to rid inventory of overproduction.

Lesson: Anyone who things that prices will stay down, think again. Anyone who thinks that prices will tick up to margin recovery level…think again. Module sales in the solar industry are historically an unpleasant competitive area in which to do business as many failed companies would attest.

Before boarding theme park rollercoasters riders typically see the following signs:

  • For your safety remain seated with hands, arms, feet and legs inside the vehicle
  • This is a high speed rollercoaster ride that includes sudden and dramatic acceleration, climbing, tilting, dropping and backwards motion
  • Beware, you may lose your glasses and hats on this ride
  • You must be this tall to ride

Similar signs are neon-light visible in the solar industry. Essentially:

  • Proceed carefully and thoughtfully and keep your emotions in check when making solar business decisions
  • This is a high speed volatile, incentive driven industry with sudden market changes due to withdrawal of government funding and painful downward price pressure
  • Beware, you may lose a ton of money on this ride
  • You must clearly understand and accept the difficulties of competing in an incentive driven industry with severe downward price pressure for components and downward bidding pressure on tenders

The solar roller coaster is alive and functioning well as an excuse for constrained margins, unreliable incentives, low bidding during auctions, high debt and a host of industry behaviors. Examples include:

  • Project delays because of inadequate transmission – blame it on the solar rollercoaster.
  • Curtailment because of over deployment and inadequate transmission – blame it on the solar rollercoaster.
  • Companies going on a buying spree ending in bankruptcy and failure (SunEdison) – blame it on the solar rollercoaster.
  • Companies failing due to downward price pressure (too many to name) – blame it on the solar rollercoaster.
  • Low tender bidding for tariffs leading to poor quality installations – blame it on the solar rollercoaster.
  • Incentive driven market bubble leading to market collapse (Spain, Italy and many more) – blame it on the solar rollercoaster.

At this point the solar rollercoaster is a cliché used to explain the often heartbreaking ride taken by participants as they strive to make a profit in a commodity industry while selling against an entrenched competitor and relying on subsidies, incentives and mandates to continue doing business.

On top of all this there is the fact that participants in the global solar industry are also warriors in the battle for the environment. It is an industry where you get to participate in doing good while hopefully doing well in a business sense.

It is also an industry where many dreams of doing good while doing well have been dashed, often because of poor business or technical choices. Solyndra is an example. Suntech is an example. SunEdison is an example. Yingli is an example.

Those working in solar get to go to bed knowing they are part of the solution, until they are no longer part of the solution.

PV Industry Behavior – Anxiety Training 101

The thing is that rollercoaster is an apt word for the experience of many, if not all, solar industry participants. It’s exciting. It’s fun. The difference is that real rollercoasters are fun for most people while the solar rollercoaster may be fun on the way up but once it swoops down and around it is definitely not fun. For those whose dreams are dashed along the way, it is tragic.

Globally most of the demand for solar is driven by incentives, subsidies and mandates that is, government policy. Government policies are historically unreliable. Today’s law is tomorrow’s reversed law. There is still relatively little pull for solar deployment from end users. This is because there are substitutes. End users of grid connected electricity in industrialized countries are disconnected from the source of the electricity. For most users price is the key metric for choosing solar and other drivers, such as climate change, serve as after decision support mechanisms. Even climate change is, for many, an amorphous driver for making electricity product choices.

Decades-long reliance on incentives that time out or end abruptly has encouraged a certain behavior among solar industry participants. At this point in solar industry history this behavior is deeply ingrained and largely unconscious. It is, however, easily observable.

In case of incentives whether they be rebates or tariffs supply and demand participants ramp up activity in the beginning and at towards the end of each decrease, panic as the end of the incentives life and rejoice if it is extended. During this process there is no time to develop a systematic approach to do business. There is only time to react to stimuli.

The current trend – in all markets – is to auction off a mandated tranche of megawatts. In this example, unlike an auction for fine art where the highest bid wins, participants bid downward. In the end, the lowest bid typically wins and is celebrated by the entire industry as a sign of progress.

If constrained margins and the potential of low quality installations because choices were made along the way to support the low bid is a sign of progress, then, well, solar auction winners are very successful. The problem with this behavior is that it is counter the best interests of the participants. A caveat, not everyone in this process is losing money, but many are losing money.

Rollercoaster Riders

The very human tendency to ignore facts that stand in stark dispute to what they want to believe goes by many names. To a market researcher it is confirmation bias that is, the tendency for people to seek only those facts that support their opinions, beliefs and choices while ignoring all the rest.

The global solar industry uses its solar rollercoaster as an example of everything good while ignoring the lost jobs, failed technology directions and worse, lost dreams. Some historic examples of companies derailed along the way (in no particular order) include BP Solar, Schott Solar, Evergreen Solar, Suntech, Uni-Solar, Abengoa and Sharp Solar. There are many more. Not everything is lost, but much is discarded along the way. Three examples of wild rides on the solar rollercoaster are SunPower, First Solar and Q-Cells.


SunPower was founded in 1985 and has been riding the solar rollercoaster for decades. Cypress Semiconductor invested in SunPower in 2002 and began divesting in SunPower in 2005 concluding the spinoff in 2008. SunPower acquired California-based commercial system integrator PowerLight in 2007. TOTAL acquired a 60% stake in SunPower in 2011 also offering it credit support. In August, TOTAL reduced its credit facility while extending it to 2018. Also in August, SunPower cut ties with some suppliers, closed its module assembly facility in the Philippines while indicating it would add capacity in Mexico and announced it would cut >1000 jobs. It also announced that, due to YieldCo uncertainty, it would reduce focus on the international utility scale sector and refocus on DG. Job cuts will primarily come from closing its module assembly facility in the Philippines and from cuts in its system’s business.

What does it all mean? SunPower finds itself in the difficult position of competing with less expensive premium module products that also have lower cost structures. Concerning its systems business it finds itself in the highly competitive downward spiraling tender and PPA biding sector. With the residential application facing net metering headwinds in the US and DG also highly competitive SunPower may not find itself with an advantage.

First Solar

First Solar bought its ticket to the solar roller coaster in 1987 when it was founded by Harold McMaster, CEO of Glasstech Corporation as Solar Cells Inc. In 1999 True North Partners, an investment group chaired by John Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton bought the struggling CdTe manufacturer – just in the nick of time – renaming the company First Solar. In 2004 First Solar received a $5-million loan from the state of Ohio to expand capacity from 6-MWp to 25-MWp. In 2006 the company raised $400-million in its IPO. Along the way First Solar has made unsuccessful forays in other technology directions toying with CIGS and crystalline without bringing either to commercial production. In the early FiT days First Solar correctly read the market and focused its business on the rapidly growing market in Europe for large scale deployment. Reading price competition correctly, it refocused on the system’s side of its business right as crystalline prices began falling and the market in Europe began softening. Recently it shuttered its crystalline start up Tetrasun and announced a restructuring indicating that it would focus more on module sales and less on its EPC and O&M business.

What does it all mean? No one can guess right forever and luck always runs out. Module sales are not the high margin area of the PV industry. Concerning module sales, overcapacity is pressuring price and prices for higher efficiency Chinese product are currently below First Solar’s cost of production. More concerning, backing away from its EPC business may indicate that years of competitive bidding has caught up with the company in terms of tight margins and potentially unprofitable system sales. As for O&M as this area is traditionally underfunded stepping away seems a good direction.


Q-Cells climbed aboard the solar rollercoaster and took a wild ride swooping around every curve, climbing ever higher and finally swooping down into bankruptcy and acquisition by South Korea-based Hanwha. Q-Cells was founded in 1999 as one of the PV industry’s first pure solar cell manufacturers. The company’s first goal was to be a cell provider, currently the basis of almost the entire solar PV industry in Taiwan. In 2001 it had 12-MWp of cell capacity. In 2005 it went public. From 2005 through 2008 it bought or invested in an amazing array of PV technologies: CSG (silicon on glass), VHF (a-Si), Solaria (low concentration), Solibro (CIGS), Brilliant 234 (silicon tandem junction), Calyxo (CdTe) and Solar Fields (CdTe). It formed a joint venture with Evergreen Solar, EverQ, to manufacturer crystalline ribbon technology. Good Energies invested in Q-Cells and Q-Cells invested in REC. In 2008 the company planned to build a cell manufacturing facility in Mexico. Along the way the company put on one of the solar industries biggest and most highly anticipated parties at the annual EU PVSC conference. In 2010 pricing for solar cells and modules crashed. In April 2012 Q-Cells declared bankruptcy and in August 2012 it was acquired by Hanwha.

What does it all mean? Sometimes it pays to be a little circumspect when on a shopping spree. Q-Cells spent and invested money freely dipping its fingers into just about every available PV technology apparently on the theory that the market would decide and that it, meaning Q-Cells, would be nimble enough to take advantage of the market’s choice. The market chose lower price and Q-Cells could not outlast the downturn.

Boarding the Ride

Doing business in the solar industry takes courage. The odds against success are stiff and the goals for low prices counter free market theory. Even end users are not immune to the vagaries of government policy. Former participants forced out through company failures typically look back longingly at their time in the industry. Call them solar refugees. There is no getting around the lure of making a living by combating climate change and in doing so potentially changing the world for the better.

But be warned enter the solar industry at your own risk as it is a wild, fun and often heartbreaking ride filled with steep downward price dives and neck-breaking shifts in government policy.

At its best the PV industry marries the opportunity to profitably contribute to the climate change solution.

At its worst industry pressures leads to prices for modules that are too low and bids on large projects that are unprofitable.

Too often new entrants enter blindly, certain that they have the market or technology solution that will overcome all the cost, price and market barriers. In many cases the realities of what it takes to survive and thrive are ignored by wearing blinders or … riding the rollercoaster with their hands over their eyes.

It is not always true that the best business plan and the best technology will win but it is true that the solar industry and all of its technologies and participants is crucial to the future. The way the world’s population sources its electricity must change and solar is part of the solution. So, for your safety remain seated with hands, arms, feet and legs inside the vehicle and beware of high speeds and sudden, dramatic acceleration, climbing, tilting, dropping and backwards motion. Beware, you may lose your glasses and hats on this ride and remember you must be this tall to ride.

Potentially stranding a significant number of solar development plans as well as some assets, in April SunEdison finally took the step that many expected and filed for bankruptcy. Pondering where things went wrong for the troubled firm leads to a winding road of overexpansion, debt and the traditional sidekick of highly visible companies and people, hubris.

Hubris, of course, happens quite often in the corporate world and there is a long list of companies that were swayed by it – who knows, one is probably being swayed at this very minute.

In the solar industry, hubris and desperation are often intertwined. Solar companies operate in a reality that includes aggressive pricing, push-pull incentives and subsidies and end user/government expectations that are nearly impossible to meet if maintaining a margin is important. In this environment panic, desperation and expediency can lead to poor decision making while companies that become highly visible and envied can fall victim to their own PR and end up making decisions in a vacuum. The problem with vacuum decision making is that it is almost always divorced from reality. Ignoring reality can, well, lead to bankruptcy.

In 2015 SunEdison delayed its filings and launched an internal audit. In 2016 though the internal audit found no evidence of fraud it found problems with the company’s overly optimistic outlook and its lack of sufficient controls and procedures as well as its untimely reports to its board.

This may be the first time that poor decision making and careless processes and controls have been blamed on optimism.

Blaming mistakes on executive optimism – even by inference, could give optimism a bad name and this would be a shame because healthy optimism is a good thing. Healthy optimism has kept many an individual and even companies afloat during tough times. Healthy optimism works hard to make its vision come true while not ignoring the potential of failure. Healthy optimism does not march over a cliff because it believes it can fly.

Blaming SunEdison’s current struggles on optimism and poor processes is a glaring understatement that soft peddles breathtakingly bad executive decision making.

Many a CEO has become tone deaf to warnings referring to those bearing cautious news as naysayers while being shored up by those who are paid well to agree. After all, when you are riding high people willingly agree with you. Once you fall these same people will be the first to say they saw the cliff you were heading towards as they enjoy watching you charge over its edge.

In the wider context, it will encourage those who believe the solar industry is hiding behind industry-wide unreasonable and unreasoning optimism something to point to – just as they still point to Solyndra.

In October the SunEdison situation was covered in the Solar Flare from the perspective of company behavior following SunEdison’s acquisition by MEMC. The following list is from the October 2015 Solar Flare.

  • 1959: Monsanto Chemical Company founds Monsanto Electronic Materials Company (MEMC) as a merchant manufacturer of 19-mm silicon wafers.
  • 1961: Dynamit Nobel Silicon, (DNS) builds a polysilicon and Czochralski ingot plant in Merano, Italy
  • 1962: MEMC pioneers the chemical mechanical polishing process (CMP). MEMC begins using the recently developed Czochralski (CZ) crystal growing process.
  • 1966: MEMC begins production of 1.5 inch wafers
  • 1970: MEMC’s plant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia begins producing 2.25 inch wafers.
  • 1979: MEMC introduces 125 mm wafers
  • 1982: MEMC develops EPI wafers for CMOS applications
  • 1984: MEMC begins producing 200mm wafers and builds a pilot plant to make granular polysilicon
  • 1987: Ethyl Corporation acquires the FBR technology developed under its Jet Propulsion Laboratory contract by General Atomic and Eagle Picher and begins production of granular silicon. MEMC develops feeders to use the finished product and is the primary customer for FBR material. Ethyl later splits into two divisions. One of the divisions is named Albemarle (after one of the Ethyl pioneers). The Albemarle division owns the poly plant.
  • 1989: Hüls AG of Marl, Germany, and a subsidiary of VEBA AG, buys MEMC through DNS naming the combined company MEMC Materials
  • 1994 Ethyl Corporation spins off its Albemarle division
  • 1995: MEMC acquires granular polysilicon (FBR) facility from Albemarle and renames it MEMC Pasadena
  • 1995: MEMC launches IPO
  • 2000: VEBA AG merges with VIAG AG to become E.ON AG
  • 2000: E.ON AG increases ownership of MEMC from 53.1% to 71.8%
  • 2000: MEMC has a net loss of 68-million Euros on revenues of 944-million Euros
  • 2001: E.ON considers bankruptcy for MEMC
  • 2001: The Texas Pacific Group (TPG) buys the 71.8% of MEMC owned by Germany Utility E.ON, restructures debt and replaces the CEO. At the time of the sale, for the symbolic amount of $1.00, MEMC stated that it only had enough cash to operate through September of that year. Texas Pacific Group agreed to revise the purchase price if MEMC improved its financial performance and to offer it debt financing
  • 2002: Nabeel Gareeb is named CEO of struggling MEMC
  • 2002: TPG converts preferred stock to common stock increasing its ownership of MEMC to 90%
  • 2003: With perfect timing – just as growth in the PV industry begins accelerating, SunEdison is founded as a commercial PV developer of PPA projects
  • 2004: MEMC enters a licensing agreement with Silicon Genesis Corp (SiGen) to manufacture wafers using SiGen’s layer transfer technology
  • 2004: PV industry demand begins to surge as crystalline supplies become constrained. Prices for wafers at >$3.00/Wp
  • 2006: MEMC agrees to supply Suntech Power with solar grade silicon wafers for ten years and receives a warrant to purchase a 4.9% stake in Suntech
  • 2006: Polysilicon prices spike with spot prices at >$400/kilogram
  • 2008: Nabeel Gareeb resigns as MEMC CEO
  • 2009: BP Solar sues MEMC for ~$140-million for failing to supply the company with polysilicon in 2006 and 2007 under a three year supply agreement, winning $8.8-million
  • 2009: MEMC acquires SunEdison
  • 2010: MEMC acquires crystal growth technology company Solaicx for $66-million
  • 2011: MEMC idles its polysilicon manufacturing facility in Merano, Italy, reduces capacity in Oregon and scales back its facility in Malaysia as well as laying off ~1,400 employees globally
  • 2011: Enters a joint venture with Samsung Fine Chemicals and MEMC’s affiliate, MEMC Singapore, to produce high purity polysilicon in Ulsan, Korea using the FBR process.
  • 2011: BP exits PV manufacturing
  • Suntech files for bankruptcy protection
  • 2013: MEMC changes company name to SunEdison
  • 2014: SunEdison spins off its semiconductor business as SunEdison Semiconductor
  • 2014: SunEdison launches Yieldco TerraForm
  • 2014: SunEdison licenses Solaria’s technology and announces Zero White Space module technology, purported to increase electricity output by 15% by eliminating space between cells
  • 2015: SunEdison sells shares of SunEdison Semiconductor to help finance acquisition of First Wind, eventually would sell all shares in SunEdison Semiconductor
  • 2015: SunEdison goes on a shopping spree buying First Wind, Globeleq Mesoamerica Energy, Continuum Wind Energy, Vivint and Solar Grid Storage
  • 2015: SunEdison announces layoffs of 15% of 7260 employees
  • 2015: SunEdison launches an internal audit and delays filings
  • 2015: SunEdison licenses LCPV/BIPV company Solaria’s Zero White Space technology that essentially involves slicing cells into thin strips and assembling the strips into a modules without spaces in-between the slices
  • 2016 January: TerraForm shareholder Appaloosa Management sues to stop SunEdison’s acquisition of Vivint
  • 2016 March: Vivint cancels SunEdison acquisition
  • 2016 March: US Justice Department launches an investigation into SunEdison’s financing activities and the SEC begins investigating the company’s disclosures to investors
  • 2016 April: SunEdison’s internal audit finds no evidence of fraud but plenty wrong with internal procedures
  • 2016 April, Vivint sues SunEdison over failed merger
  • 2016 April, SunEdison files for bankruptcy

SPV Market Research annual Manufacturer Shipment report

Manufacturers on the annual top ten list have shifted places, dropped on and off the list, withdrawn from production, re-entered production and declared bankruptcy. Currently crystalline manufacturers are adding more module assembly capacity than cell processing capacity while thin film manufacturers are expanding into crystalline production.

As an example, Sharp Solar (Japan) was the top photovoltaic manufacturer in terms of shipments from 2001 through 2007, the longest period for any single manufacturer. Sharp Solar is one of the PV industry’s pioneers in crystalline and amorphous silicon technology. As with other manufacturers from other countries for a period it priced aggressively to gain share. As with manufacturers from China, it could rely on its home market (Japan) to absorb module product in the years when Japan’s market for PV deployment was almost completely closed to outside manufacturers. As Chinese manufacturers ramped up and the cost of polysilicon increased significantly Sharp made a misstep into thin films that never reaped the hoped for benefits. Now that Sharp has been acquired by Foxconn it is unclear whether or not Sharp’s new parent will invest sufficient funds for the company to regain share.

The annual top ten list of PV manufacturers is important not as a promotion of any particular manufacturer, but as a way to observe regional and technology trends overtime. The past does not lie, it can, however, be misinterpreted or data can be cherry picked to make a point not with which the whole tapestry of the past is in disagreement.

Manufacturers from China will continue to dominate the top ten list for the foreseeable future as its manufacturers ramp capacity in other countries including the US and Mexico.

Top Ten Manufacturers 2015