Thursday, August 9, 2012

Abound Solar, Recipient of $400 Million Loan Guarantee, Shuts Down

Abound Solar, a Colorado thin-film photovoltaic panel startup that snagged $400 million in federal loan guarantees to take on industry leader First Solar, is shutting down and filing for bankruptcy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Because of the strong protections we put in place for taxpayers, the department has already protected more than 80% of the original loan amount,” Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera wrote in a blog post Thursday, noting that Abound had drawn down less than $70 million of the loan guarantee. “Once the bankruptcy liquidation is complete, the Department expects the total loss to the taxpayer to be between 10 and 15 percent of the original loan amount.”

LaVera said that Abound would shut its doors next week and file for bankruptcy.

The company did not immediately respond to an inquiry seeking comment. Abound’s shut down was first reported Thursday by Greentech Media.

Update: In a statement, Abound said the company “has been in discussions with potential buyers over the last several months, but ended negotiations when the involved parties were unable to come to an agreement on terms.”

The bankruptcy will affect 125 employees, according to Abound.

In February, Abound halted production of its cadmium-telluride thin-film solar panels in Colorado, laid off workers and delayed construction of a factory in Indiana that was to be built with proceeds from the $400 million loan guarantee.

“Abound Solar still has long-term plans for a Tipton, Ind., manufacturing facility once production of its next-generation modules begins,” the company stated on its website in February. “The company anticipates having an update on a Tipton facility build-out in mid-2013.”

The company made thin-film solar panels that while less efficient than standard crystalline silicon panels were cheaper to manufacture, particularly when silicon prices were high.

But Like Solyndra and other thin-film startups, Abound increasingly found itself squeezed by plummeting prices for standard solar panels as Chinese manufacturers ramped up production and silicon costs fell as well as by the entry into the thin-film market by General Electric, which is building a 400-megawatt factory to produce cadmium-telluride, or CDTe, solar panels.

“Abound believes that, at scale, its USA-made CdTe panel technology has the ability to achieve lower cost per watt than competing crystalline silicon technology made in China,” Abound said in its statement. “However, aggressive pricing actions from Chinese solar panel companies have made it very difficult for an early stage startup company like Abound to scale in current market conditions.”

Although Abound executives had previously told me they hoped to profit from supplying solar panels to customers that First Solar could not serve, that market apparently did not materialize fast enough.

“Produced at lower scale and likely a higher cost, the chance for survival in the current market environment was always slim,” Shyam Mehta, a senior analyst at GTM Research, which is affiliated with Greentech Media, wrote of Abound’s solar panels in a research note Thursday. “Unfortunately, Abound and other module manufacturing closures including thin film and [cadmium-telluride] suppliers alike, is still just the tip of the iceberg.”


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