Solar shakeout: Abound Solar to file for bankruptcy as global competition claims next victim

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It appears that the next victim of this most ruthless of competitions – the solar shakeout – is CdTe thin-film manufacturer Abound Solar. Another controversial recipient of a DOE loan guarantee, the company will be closing its doors next week, a claim that has been confirmed on the DOE's website today. According to a GTM Research report, the company will finally cave to cost pressure from CdTe leader First Solar and the general plummeting product costs across the PV manufacturing board.

“Abound's cadmium telluride (CdTe) product had little differentiation from First Solar and also suffered from lower efficiency,” said Shyam Mehta, senior analyst at GTM Research. “Produced at lower scale and likely a higher cost, the chance for survival in the current market environment was always slim. Unfortunately, Abound and other module manufacturing closures including thin film and c-Si suppliers alike, is still just the tip of the iceberg. GTM Research forecasts at least 21 GW of PV module manufacturing capacity to retire by the end of 2015.”

Abound, recipient of a US$400 million DOE loan, of which US$70 million has been drawn down by the company, moved at the end of February this year to close its first-generation CdTe thin-film module facility in Longmont, Colorado with the intention of accelerating the migration to its Gen 2 higher efficiency modules. This resulted in the loss of 180 jobs at the plant and was granted the loan guarantee in 2011 to build and expand capacity in 2011 at its new plant in Tipton, Indiana.

The company had anticipated that mass production be resumed by the end of 2012, and that its new plant would have a nameplate capacity of 840MW when fully completed and operational in 2014.

At the time, the move was deemed an odd one by some analysts. Abound had been successfully selling its Gen 1 modules to the emerging Indian market’s large-scale installations, so its change of tactics in shifting focus to its Gen 2 modules was not deemed the most obvious of moves for the company at the time.

Abound had been looking for a buyer for some time, and last month had, according to the GTM Research report, identified “an unnamed prospective buyer which never materialized.”

As Abound waited for payment of US$10 million of its US$400 million loan guarantee, it ran into difficulties. The company had to decide between laying low and awaiting the cash and ramping up its Gen 2 module production in order to keep revenues coming in.

However, it would appear that First Solar’s CdTe panels that boast a 12.2% conversion efficiency and a cost of US$0.73 per watt – coupled with the still-plummeting costs of c-Si modules emerging from China – proved too competitive for Abound and as a result, it has had to shut down operations.

“When the floor fell out on the price of solar panels, Abound’s product was no longer cost competitive,” said Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman in a statement on the department’s website.

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