Solar power struggles: DayStar warns, OptiSolar closes plant

A tough financing environment and brutal price competition in solar are making it tough for some companies, including solar cell makers DayStar and OptiSolar.

Two young solar companies--DayStar Technologies and OptiSolar--have indicated that they're on shaky financial footing, signs that a shake-out among solar power companies has begun.

On Friday, DayStar Technologies said that it has issued a "going concern" statement as part of its annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Halfmoon, N.Y.-based company had a net loss of $26 million in 2008.

"Our commercialization plans require additional capital to be raised," William Steckel, DayStar's chief financial officer, said in a statement. He added that the company engaged J.P. Morgan Securities to explore "select strategic transactions."

DayStar was one of the first companies to be formed to make solar cells from CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, and selenide), an alternative material to silicon.

Meanwhile, Hayward, Calif.-based OptiSolar said last week that it has closed its solar cell manufacturing plant and is laying off 200 employees, according to reports. Late last year, it cut its staff in half and warned that it would need more capital to continue operating.

That leaves fewer than 100 employees on OptiSolar's payroll, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

OptiSolar, too, has developed an alternative solar technology, making thin-film cells from amorphous silicon. Last month, it sold its pipeline of projects to First Solar.

Both events point to the financing challenges that green-tech companies face, particularly in the solar sector.

Faced with both the economic slowdown and conservative lending, development-stage green-tech companies have had trouble getting the large amount of capital needed to expand.

Venture capitalists had poured millions of dollars into dozens of new solar companies, a situation that many people expected would lead to failed companies.

Meanwhile, an anticipated drop in silicon prices is expected to push the cost-per-watt of solar power lower, creating brutal price competition among cell and panel providers.

The situation could lead to consolidation among solar companies, say analysts. OptiSolar has been looking for a buyer but hasn't been able to find one, a company representative told the San Francisco Chronicle.

That's not to say that all solar start-ups are in a perilous position financially. Solar start-up Solyndra on Friday said that it expects to receive a $535 million loan from the Department of Energy to build a cell manufacturing plant.

 

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