Management Shuffle at Masdar PV

Masdar PV, the company set up by the government ofAbu Dhabi to make silicon solar panels for utility-scale solar parks,has abruptly changed its management.

The company has announced that CEO Rainer Gegenwart and COO JoachimNeil have "been removed from their roles" at the company. (Now there’sterminology you don’t hear every day.) Michael Alexander will head upthe organization in the meantime. Gegenwart was a longtime solar exec.

“We are looking positive in 2010,” Gegenwart told us in January. “I would say that the order intake (for Masdar) ismore positive than expected.”

Masdar PV is part of the sprawling Masdar Initiative funded by AbuDhabi. With peak oil on the horizon, Abu Dhabi wants to build a clean energy economy in its borders. The government has funded thecreation of a graduate school focused on alternative energy and energyefficiency: MIT advises on the curriculum and set up the admissionspolicies. The effort also includes companies focused on carbon capture,alternative energy power plants and other segments of the green economy.

While the press release is somewhat vague, the termination might have to do with how Masdar PV is not progressing as fast as earlierexpectations. Masdar PV opened a factory in Germany last year andstarted popping out panels in October 2009. The factory is capable of producing 65 megawatts of solar panels per year and Masdar PV in October said itwould expand it to 85 megawatts by 2011. It also said it had plans tobuild a 65 megawatt factory in Abu Dhabi in 2010. A few months later,however, Gegenwart told us that the Abu Dhabi factory was on hold until feed-in tariffs were passed in the region.

Meanwhile, crystalline silicon solar panels have continued to drop in price and rise in efficiency, making it tougher for Masdar PV to sellits panels. The efficiency for Masdar’s amorphous silicon panels started at 6 to 6.6 percent and the company has been trying to move towardinto the 7 to 8 percent range.

Masdar PV is one of the larger customers of the troubled SunFabmanufacturing line from Applied Materials, so chalk this up as anotherdanger sign for Applied. Masdar initially said it would invest $2 billion into thin film manufacturing.

Analysts and others in the past few weeks have pointed out thatpanels from SunFab lines cost more than competing panels. In earlyMarch, we reported on rumors and speculation that AppliedMaterials might look to scale back or even sell its group that makes equipment for amorphous silicon solar panels. After that, analysts at Goldman Sachs attributed a rise in Applied’s stock to newsreports that the company might actually scale back on SunFab. Then atthe end of March, Applied indicated it would reduce its investments inSunFab.

In April, Signet Solar, Applied’s first customer, pulled plans to build a factory in New Mexico, while another early customer, SunFilm, filed for bankruptcy protection. SunFilm was actually two Applied customers in one: last year, it bought Sontor.

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