Why Solyndra is NOT Solar Thermal

26 September of 2011 by

solyndra not solar thermal Why Solyndra is NOT Solar Thermal

As Americans get bombarded with political news surrounding the bankruptcy and failed loan guarantee of Solyndra, the negative publicity is spilling over to the entire solar industry, especially solar PV, but also to the solar thermal side.

As much as we are saddened to hear of any American solar company failing and laying off workers, the solar industry is not just one company. In fact, there are clear distinctions between Solyndra and the rest of the solar industry, but let’s focus on the solar thermal industry:

1) First, Solyndra created a proprietary solar electric PV (photo-voltaic) technology that produced electricity from the sun’s light.

Modern “solar thermal heating” or “solar water heating” or “solar hot water”—whatever you want to call it—is a 100-year-old technology that collects the sun’s heat and then produces hot water, hot air, or even cool air with additional technology.

2) Solyndra received a $500 million loan guarantee under what’s called the “1705 program” administered by the Department of Energy. The company used the money to build and improve a new U.S. factory. Ultimately, it failed because producing their new product still cost too much and they couldn’t compete against the 50% price drop of traditional solar PV panels.

While there are different types of solar thermal panels, the technology and cost to make them are fairly stable. There are few innovations or the ability to reduce current labor costs. Free Hot Water’s solar collectors are made in Austria and America, and, as a result, have exceptional durability and quality, yet are still competitive with lower quality Chinese collectors.

3) The 1705 loan guarantee program has nothing to do with other existing incentives for solar hot water or solar electric systems. It should also be noted that this loan program has overall been successful. Soyndra’s default makes up only 2% of the Department of Energy’s loan portfolio and it is the only loan known to have gone bad.

American solar thermal companies like Free Hot Water– based in San Jose, California–have relied on private investments and loans to fund operations. Yes, the various state and federal incentive programs do help stimulate the solar thermal business, but this is nothing new. Far more lucrative incentives and policies for other energy sources have supported the gas, nuclear, ethanol, and oil businesses for decades.

The other difference between fossil fuels like gas and solar hot water’s technology is that solar energy is clean and can be collected for the next billion years or so in our own country.

So, Solyndra may have failed, but American politicians shouldn’t use the failure of one company as a way to delay the development and support of solar and other clean technologies. America has to support these emerging technologies now if we are to maintain our energy supply and modern Western lifestyles. Solar hot water has been and remains an excellent energy choice and its growth should continue to be supported by the public and our federal and local governments.

Original Article  on Free Hot Water Blog

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  1. Frankly, I think the loans should not go to companies at all, except for academic research and development where up front costs are too daunting to allow the technical advances to be studied. And under these limited cases, there should adequate study beforehand to ensure money is being loaned wisely.

    Loans from the American government should go to consumers and small businesses, with the understanding they must use the funds to buy American made solar, wind, geo-thermal equipment and other alternative energy equipment.

    The idea that one can give money to the supply side of the equation will not result in the necessary demand to make the product marketable or profitable.

    To drive a market properly, one must create sustainable demand; let the suppliers compete against each other – this is how capitalism is supposed to work. The other aspect of understanding demand is to understand the fully loaded costs of continuing to use grossly dirty, polluting fossil fuels and fission based nuclear power, and make the equation of how society pays for these fuels more apparent to the end consumer.

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