Leaked emails about Solyndra are first to make sense

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Updated. Having switched off from much, if not all, of the political aspects to the demise of Solyndra, at last we are getting some solid confirmation of the real problems Solyndra was dealing with and getting more inline with the real issue, which was technology based.

Reuters covers leaked emails from one of the key private investors, Kaiser's Argonaut Private Equity. A picture was painted of growing customer criticism of the unique cylindrical CIGS modules' actual power output compared to claimed specifications.

Customers were complaining but Solyndra’s CEO Chris Gronet wasn’t listening, according to the Reuters information gathered from emails.

I've forgotten how many times I asked Solyndra staff just what their conversion efficiencies were, without getting a reply. But the lack of response was always accompanied by a smile.

We had long known that its manufacturing costs were much higher than other thin-film offerings and that they were not cost-competitive with crystalline technologies – another aspect covered in emails, according to Reuters.

Yet being a differentiated product obviously wasn’t going to save the company without competitive pricing, which never happened. This wasn't just because the CEO wouldn’t allow this – Solyndra only lately focused on manufacturing cost reduction strategies.

Claims that ‘cheaper’ Chinese modules were the villains in the sorry saga continue to miss the point that Solyndra was responsible for its own demise. Granted, it didn’t help that crystalline module prices were falling and – since Solyndra’s collapse – have fallen even further and at a faster rate, but you can’t run a business that ships several hundred or several thousands of dollar notes per module order for long. The product can't cost more than you can sell it at.

This has now affected all tier-1 crystalline module manufacturers as prices have collapsed – something everyone is well aware of and one of the reasons why fears of bankruptcies have started circulating.

Documents from the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce relating to this story are available here in Document 25
One email also highlights that the rush to use Fab1 to produce modules for market meant that no R&D on the CIGS processes had been undertaken for a year. This highlights that the lower-than-specified performance wouldn’t have been corrected quickly had it been tackled. Solyndra had reduced performance ratings by 3.5% and the same level reduction in pricing following complaints. 
CEO Gronet was also criticised for virtually abandoning its customer base in the commercial flat rooftop space for any business that would pay the highest prices.
This suggestion signals that the company's core product differentiation was undermined from inside the company at the highest level. 

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