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U.S. Solar Plants Close

by Melody Voith
November 16, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 46

General Electric plans to close its Newark, Del., solar module facility at the end of 2009 and lay off 82 employees. In a statement, the company blames the closure on “current challenges in the solar industry, including industry pricing that is below the cost of manufacture.” GE says it will shift resources away from crystalline silicon modules to concentrate on inverter and thin-film technology. Separately, Evergreen Solar told investors that it will stop making solar panels at its Devens, Mass., plant and start making them in China by mid-2010. The company says a 30% price drop for crystalline silicon solar panels over the past year has made it difficult to remain cost competitive in the U.S. Evergreen will continue to produce solar wafers and cells at the Devens plant. In March, BP said it would end solar module assembly at its facility in Frederick, Md., as part of a strategy to cut unit costs by 25% by the end of 2010. The solar industry is suffering from a “triple witching hour” due to large inventories of solar panels, low silicon prices, and slow demand, says Robert N. Castellano, president of Information Network, a market research firm (C&EN, Nov. 9, page 28). Castellano estimates that solar plants worldwide are operating at only 25% capacity and says small-scale U.S. facilities will not be able to compete on price with new plants coming on-line in China.


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