Intel’s solar spinoff shuts up shop

Spectrawatt files for bankruptcy after less than 1 year of manufacturing.

If you can make processors from polysilicon then surely you should also be in the business of manufacturing solar cells as they are made from the same material. This was roughly the reasoning behind Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) move to study the design and manufacturing of solar cells that in 2008 resulted in the spinoff of Spectrawatt located in Hopewell Junction, New York.

Intel Capital led an investment of $50 million along with Cogentrix Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund and Solon AG.  Now, after having manufactured products for less than a year the company abruptly filed for bankruptcy last week laying off all 117 employees according to the local newspaper Ties-Herald Record.

The company cites disputes among suppliers along with competition from Taiwan and China as the main reason for not being profitable.  It is no secret that solar cell manufacturing, from an economic standpoint, has much in common with fabbing of DRAM. Both industries run on razor thin margins and if you don’t run a tight ship then you go out of business.

And talking about the economy, it seems that solar cell manufacturers are virtually lining up to file for bankruptcy. It is not only domestic manufacturers that have huge problems – they also face challenges in both China and Taiwan.

As for Intel Capital’s investment it just goes to show that even Intel sometimes invests in the wrong companies. On the other hand if they were successful all the time, we would probably accuse them of being too cautious.

And let’s face it: without heavy subsidies there wouldn’t be any manufacturer at all with black numbers on the bottom line.S|A

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