Infographic: Solyndra v The Solar Industry

By Matthew Wheeland - September 28, 2011
Infographic: Solyndra v. The Solar Industry


Infographic: Solyndra v. The Solar Industry

Solyndra vs. the Solar Industry

The high-profile bankruptcy of solar manufacturer Solyndra has given naysayers a soapbox to suggest there’s something wrong with the solar industry as a whole. A closer look, however, reveals that the solar industry is booming and Solyndra’s failure was, in many ways, the result of the solar market’s overall success.




When Solyndra began, it was a cost-competitive option in the solar market. Today, however, Solyndra’s reputed cost structure is significantly higher than the average price for solar modules. This steep decline in price resulted in significant losses for Solyndra.

  • Revenue in 2010: $142 M
  • Net losses in 2010: $329 M
  • Average price October 2008: $4.2/watt
  • Solyndra: $2/watt
  • Average price today: $1.5/watt
The Solar Industry
The falling price per watt of solar modules has made solar more accessible for many Americans. Between 2009 and 2010, the U.S. solar market grew more than 60 percent.
  • U.S. GDP Growth (2009-2010): 2.8%
  • U.S. Solar Market Growth (2009-2010): 67%
  • 2009 U.S. Solar Market: $3.6 billion
  • 2010 U.S. Solar Market: $6 billion
Average cost of pre-incentive solar installations
  • 2007: $7.9/watt
  • 2008: $7.6/watt
  • 2009: $7.5/watt
  • 2010: $6.2/watt
  • 2011 (Q1): $5.5/watt



When the company filed for bankruptcy in September 2011, it also laid off the majority of its staff. 1,100 positions at Solyndra were eliminated when the company filed for bankruptcy.


The Solar Industry

The U.S. solar industry is creating jobs faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. Between August 2010 and August 2011, the number of solar jobs grew by 6.8 percent. 6,735 new jobs were added. 100,237 workers were employed by U.S. solar businesses as of August 2011.

  • Traditional job growth (1998-2007): 3.7%
  • Clean economy job growth (1998-2007): 9.1%
  • National median wage: $38,616
  • Median wage of typical clean economy job: $44,000

Current Value


In addition to the government loan, Solyndra received more than $1 billion in private funding. At the time of bankruptcy filing, the company declared nearly $784 million in secured debt.

  • Private capital funding: $1.1 billion
  • DOE guaranteed loan: $535 million
  • Assets as of Jan. 1: $859 million
  • Debts as of Jan. 1: $749 million
The Solar Industry
In 2010, solar energy installations created a total of $6.0 billion in direct value, of which 75% was accrued to the U.S.
  • 82% ($3.6 billion) came from the photovoltaics sector.
  • 9% ($419 million) came from the concentrating solar sector.
  • 9% ($400 million) came from the solar heating and cooling sector.

On the World Stage


When Solyndra secured the DOE loan, thin-film solar was a cost-competitive alternative to silicon-based panels. However, global market forces ultimately made silicon more competitive. The price of silicon-based panels, made mainly in China and with which Solyndra was competing, fell 46 percent between 2009 and 2011.


The Solar Industry

The U.S. is currently running a $1.9 billion trade surplus in solar technologies. Compare that to a $250 billion trade deficit in petroleum.

  • Solar imports: $3,750 million
  • Solar exports: $5,630 million
  • Net solar exports: $1,880 million

Putting it in perspective: The Solyndra Loan

The financial losses from Solyndra were extensive. However, the loan guarantee was only 1.3 percent of the funds the government set aside for clean-energy projects

  • Solyndra loan: $535 million
  • Clean energy loan guarantee program: $38.6 billion
Compared to other loans from the Department of Energy, Solyndra’s loan was tiny. And to date, the Solyndra loan is the only one known to be troubled out of 1705.
10 largest closed loans from Department of Energy’s Loan Program (1705 loans):
  • BrightSource Energy: $1.6 billion
  • Abengoa Solar: $1.4 billion
  • Caithness Shepherds Flat: $1.3 billion
  • Abengoa Solar (Mojave Solar): $1.2 billion
  • Agua Caliente: $967 million
  • NextEra Energy Resources: $852 million
  • Solyndra: $535 million
  • Abound Solar: $400 million
  • LS Power Associates: $343 million
  • Solo Power: $197 million

Another Government-Backed Flop

But Solyndra isn’t alone when it comes to government-subsidized companies that have failed. Consider Enron, which filed for bankruptcy in September 2001.

  • Solyndra: $535 million loan
  • Enron: $1.2 billion loan
The Solyndra Timeline
Solyndra was approved for the federal loan guarantee program by the Bush administration and the loan itself was several years in the making—not a rush job by the Obama administration, as many news outlets would have you believe.
  • May 2005: Solyndra is founded to provide a competitive alternative to silicon-based panels as a silicon shortage drives prives of solar photovoltaics.
  • Jul 2005: The Bush Administration signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which creates the 1703 loan guarantee program.
  • Feb-Oct 2006: Solyndra raises first-round funding from CMEA Capital, Argonaut Venture Capital, Madrone Capital Partners, and others, which were part of a $78.2 million fund.
  • Dec 2006: Solyndra applies for a loan guarantee as part of the Department of Energy loan program.
  • Late 2007: Solyndra is approved as one of 16 clean-tech companies to move forward in the loan guarantee program under the Bush Administration’s DOE.
  • Nov 2008: With silicon prices still high, the company is an attractive investment and raises more funding, bringing total private investment to more than $450 million.
  • Jan 2009: Shortly before President Obama is inaugurated, the Bush Administration tries to bring Solyndra before a DOE credit review committee, which remands the loan back to DOE because it wasn’t ready for conditional commitment.
  • March 2009: The credit committee approves the loan application. Staff at the DOE issue a conditional commitment setting out the terms.
  • Jun 2009: Silicon prices begin to drop as more silicon production facilities grow. Between June 2009 and August 2011, photovoltaics prices fall by more than 50 percent.
  • Sep 2009: The company raises $219 million more shortly before the DOE secures the $535 million loan guarantee. The close on the loan guarantee occurs roughly three years after the application is submitted.
  • Jan-Jun 2010: The price of silicon-based PV continues its steady fall. Investors question Solyndra’s ability to compete at the same time the company raises $175 million more.
  • Feb 2011: Rather than liquidate the company, the DOE decides to give Solyndra a chance. Investors pump in $75 million to restructure the loan guarantee.
  • Jun 2011: The average price for solar modules falls to $1.50 per watt. Analysts worry about how the company will compete, even though Solyndra says it has cut costs.
  • Aug 2011: The DOE refuses to restructure the loan guarantee for a second time.
  • Sep 2011: Solyndra files for bankruptcy, lays off workers, and shutters its manufacturing facility.
Sources: Department of Energy, The Solar Foundation, GreenTechSolar, Washington Post, Daily Caller, Solar Energies Industry Association, Climate Progress, CleanTechnica, Bloomberg,,, BusinessWeek, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, New York Times, The Associated Press.

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