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Sat Feb 25, 2012, 02:00 PM

Why Did Leading Solar Panel Maker Solyndra Fail?

http://www.healthnewsdigest.com/news/Environment_380/Why_Did_Leading_Solar_Panel_Maker_Solyndra_Fail.shtml

HealthNewsDigest.com) - Solyndra was a California-based maker of thin-film solar cells affixed to cylindrical panels that could deliver more energy than conventional flat photovoltaic panels. The company’s novel system mounted these flexible cells, made of copper, indium, gallium and diselenide (so-called CIGS), onto cylindrical tubes where they could absorb energy from any direction, including from indirect and reflected light.

<snip>

What caused this shooting star of alternative energy to burn out so spectacularly after just six years in business and such a large investment? Part of what made Solyndra’s technology so promising was its low cost compared to traditional photovoltaic panels that relied on once costlier silicon. “When Solyndra launched, processed silicon was selling at historic highs, which made CIGS a cheaper option,” reports Rachel Swaby in Wired Magazine. “But silicon producers overreacted to the price run-up and flooded the market.” The result was that silicon prices dropped 90 percent, eliminating CIGS’ initial price advantage.

Another problem for Solyndra was the falling price of natural gas—the cleanest of the readily available fossil fuels—as extractors implemented new technologies including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to get at formerly inaccessible domestic reserves in shale rock. In 2001 shale gas accounted for two percent of U.S. natural gas output, while today that number is closer to 30 percent. The result of this increased supply is that the price of natural gas has fallen by some 77 percent since 2008, meaning utilities can produce electricity from it much cheaper as well. “Renewables simply can’t compete,” adds Swaby.

The final blow to Solyndra was China’s creation of a $30 billion credit line for its nascent solar industry. “The result: Chinese firms went from making just six percent of the world’s solar cells in 2005 to manufacturing more than half of them today,” says Swaby. U.S. market share is now just seven percent.

<more>

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Arrow 18 replies Author Time Post
Reply Why Did Leading Solar Panel Maker Solyndra Fail? (Original post)
jpak Feb 2012 OP
PamW Feb 2012 #1
kristopher Feb 2012 #4
ProgressiveProfessor Feb 2012 #5
kristopher Feb 2012 #6
PamW Feb 2012 #7
kristopher Feb 2012 #9
PamW Feb 2012 #11
caraher Feb 2012 #12
PamW Feb 2012 #13
PamW Feb 2012 #8
kristopher Feb 2012 #10
PamW Feb 2012 #14
jpak Feb 2012 #15
caraher Feb 2012 #16
bananas Feb 2012 #17
jpak Feb 2012 #18
saras Feb 2012 #2
pinto Feb 2012 #3

Response to jpak (Original post)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 02:46 PM

1. and "VERY POOR" design.

When the Solyndra application for financial aid was submitted to DOE, the design of the Solyndra system was evaluated by DOE scientists who concluded that it was a "very poor design".

The Solyndra design wrapped thin-film solar cells around cylindrical bars. The bars in turn were assembled into panels like the bars on a jail cell except with much closer spaced bars. This is NOT a very good design.

Think about if you were designing a solar farm, and how you would place your heliostats with the solar panels. You would line them up to follow the sun. If they were not movable, you would place them facing south in the northern hemisphere; because that is the primary direction of the sun.

Would you ever arrange your fixed heliostats in a circle; such that many were facing north, and east and west; in addition to those facing south? NO - that would be a TERRIBLE arrangement for solar panels. Why have solar panels facing north in the northern hemisphere?

Well that's what the Solyndra design did. With its circular design, at any given moment, most of its solar cell area was facing any way EXCEPT at the Sun. DOE scientists identified this extremely poor design aspect of the Solyndra design and reccomended to DOE NOT to fund Solyndra.

However, Solyndra hired a law firm that employed the wife of a very high ranking DOE official who has now resigned. Solyndra got their money in spite of the warning that the DOE's scientists sounded. The rest is history.

PamW

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Response to PamW (Reply #1)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 05:55 PM

4. I have never seen anyone get so many things so wrong so consistently.

Last edited Sat Feb 25, 2012, 07:09 PM - Edit history (1)

You routinely falsify your references, so please proved a proper citation for
1) the DOE recommendation against funding Solyndra
2) the assertions behind your implication of corruption.

See also:

http://www.democraticunderground.com/11277405

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Response to kristopher (Reply #4)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 06:17 PM

5. My understanding is that both are indeed true

The techies were unimpressed and the bubba did leave Federal service.

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Response to ProgressiveProfessor (Reply #5)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 06:27 PM

6. Support your "understanding"

The economic issues with Solyndra have nothing to do with bad technology or poor design, so we'll need a bit more than your unsupported consistently antisolar word for it.

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Response to kristopher (Reply #6)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 10:23 PM

7. For Heaven's sake....

For Heaven's sake, even someone with your limited acumen in science should be able to see how poor the design of the Solyndra system is.

Again, consider my analogy with how your place heliostats in a solar farm. If you had someone who put the heliostats in a circle with the panels facing outward; wouldn't you admit that person doesn't know what they are doing?

"Why do you have solar panels pointing north in the northern hemisphere?"

"Oh - I want to be ready in case the sun rises in the north and sets in the south".

PamW

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Response to PamW (Reply #7)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 11:45 PM

9. Your description is inapt and your hyperbole is inept.

The tube and reflector design of the panels was far more effective at capturing energy over the course of a day than flat panels; achieving performance in a stationary system nearly as good as a tracking system. The design also reduced the cost of installation because it virtually eliminated the need to re-inforce the rooftop structures by reducing wind resistance.

This gave them a path to cost effectiveness that would have been competitive with flat panel silicon if China hadn't entered the picture and caused a huge drop in the cost of silicon flat panels.



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Response to kristopher (Reply #9)


Response to PamW (Reply #11)

Sun Feb 26, 2012, 03:51 PM

12. For what it's worth

What Kristopher said is essentially the same thing I heard from a Solyndra official one year ago. I was at a conference on sustainable energy and when they described the Solyndra design my first thought was that it was fairly inefficient for the obvious reasons. In terms of electrical output per unit solar cell surface area in full sunlight, you simply cannot beat a tracking system.

But that's probably not the most relevant metric; a better one may be installed cost per kWh generated. Tracking systems add cost and complexity. The not-totally-crazy idea behind the Solyndra design was to make some tradeoffs. You get a lot of mechanical simplicity from a non-tracking system, it does vastly reduce potential limitations due to wind and (in cold climates) snow load, and allows collection of some diffusely-scattered light from surfaces beneath the tubes (i.e. the half facing "the wrong direction"). The design simply isn't intended to maximize output from a given roof surface area; instead, the idea is to get some power more cheaply.

But the whole concept really only works if you can put a sufficiently cheap PV material on the cylinders. For a while it looked like they might have an edge there, but then the economics of solar panels changed abruptly when the Chinese panels flooded the market. It probably was a pretty marginal concept even without that; but cheap silicon cells meant no chance.

I'd love to know exactly when, where and why DOE gave the system a big thumbs down, aside from any shady dealings and market shifts. Just providing a link would be great.

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Response to caraher (Reply #12)

Sun Feb 26, 2012, 03:59 PM

13. Agreed.

But the whole concept really only works if you can put a sufficiently cheap PV material on the cylinders.
=============================

Yes - if you take it to the limit and had free solar cells; then "wasting" solar cells by pointing them in the wrong direction wouldn't matter.

The problem is, the cost of the cells is one of the major costs, if not THE major cost.

The economics of solar power are such that solar just doesn't have the "free energy" ( that's in the thermodynamic sense ) to throw away efficiency per unit area.

PamW

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Response to kristopher (Reply #4)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 10:39 PM

8. I've warned you.

Kris,

I warned you of your continual LIES about me falsifying references.
Remember I told you if you continued; I'd strive harder to kill the solar subsidies;
well this one "counts". I'll see how much I can get it reduced further next year.

Your choice - you can continue to tell lies about me; or you can have a solar program.

If you read / followed the news; then you would know the case of Mr. Silver of DOE.

Honestly; the rest of us have known about this for YEARS and you are just catching on?

PamW

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Response to PamW (Reply #8)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 11:46 PM

10. You need to stop this Pam.

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Response to kristopher (Reply #10)


Response to PamW (Reply #14)

Sun Feb 26, 2012, 06:00 PM

15. What horseshit

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Response to PamW (Reply #8)

Sun Feb 26, 2012, 10:05 PM

16. So let me get this straight

What you will do to advance energy policy in the direction you find most promising depends on whether someone on DU you questions the veracity of your sources?

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Response to PamW (Reply #8)

Mon Feb 27, 2012, 07:15 AM

17. Wow! That's one for the history books!

PamW made a very interesting threat:

8. I've warned you.

Kris,

I warned you of your continual LIES about me falsifying references.
Remember I told you if you continued; I'd strive harder to kill the solar subsidies;
well this one "counts". I'll see how much I can get it reduced further next year.

Your choice - you can continue to tell lies about me; or you can have a solar program.

If you read / followed the news; then you would know the case of Mr. Silver of DOE.

Honestly; the rest of us have known about this for YEARS and you are just catching on?

PamW

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Response to PamW (Reply #8)

Tue Feb 28, 2012, 10:13 AM

18. No solar for you

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Response to jpak (Original post)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 02:50 PM

2. Interesting spin on the data, sounds like WSJ viewpoint

 

A slightly different spin...

Item 1 - they were too susceptible to short-term price fluctuations while working towards a long-term goal.
Item 2 - massive subsidies to fossil fuels (i.e. all the damage they get to do for free, much of which we won't know about for many decades, and that only if we pay for the research, and their immunity to lawsuits) affected their competitive position
Item 3 - The United States doesn't support developing industries well (which is also the cause of 1)

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Response to jpak (Original post)

Sat Feb 25, 2012, 02:54 PM

3. Two current solar projects on the Carrizo Plain -

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