August, 2011, was bad for U.S. solar cell and panel makers, three companies entering bankruptcy:
Evergreen Solar, MA, crystalline Si, $58 MM from MA
Solyndra, CA, CIGS thin film, $535 MM from US
SpectraWatt, NY, crystalline Si, all private
All three cite price competition from China, especially Suntech, Trina and Yingli (silicon) and from First Solar of Arizona (CdTe thin film), with over half its manufacturing in Malaysia. A price and performance comparison shows the bankrupt companies at significant disadvantages.
First Solar sells products only to installers and utilities; no price evaluation is possible from publicly released information. Only spotty information is available for SpectraWatt.
Solyndra and Evergreen products can readily be compared with competitive products from Suntech, Trina and Yingli in pallet prices--usually 20 panels--from wholesale distributors. All products are now offered with 25-year guarantees for 80% of rated output.
In their most popular panel formats, Suntech, Trina and Yingli all achieve about 140 peak watts per square meter (Wp/sqm). Evergreen achieves about 130 Wp/sqm, First Solar about 110 Wp/sqm and Solyndra about 90 Wp/sqm. With Evergreen, First Solar or Solyndra, less total output is available from a fixed mounting space.
Wholesale prices in pallet lots were quoted at $2.41 per peak Watt (Wp) for Suntech, $2.31/Wp for Trina and $1.96/Wp for Yingli, making Yingli the value leader in this price check. Wholesale prices were $2.50/Wp for Evergreen and $4.39/Wp for Solyndra.
Evergreen was outpriced significantly by Yingli. Solyndra pricing was far more than competition. Its only advantage was lower temperature coefficient, but ordinary operating temperatures are not nearly enough to compensate for its low output per square meter and its high cost per Watt.
Evergreen did not look to compete well against Chinese suppliers, while Solyndra was outpriced by about a factor of two.
First Solar products generate only about 80 percent as much energy from a fixed mounting space as do panels from Suntech, Trina and Yingli, but their pricing and other features, including lower temperature coefficient, are evidently competitive. They contain hazardous substances; the company provides a recycling program.