Dec 23, 2010:China’s Trina Solar launches $800 million expansion, as SpectraWatt sputters

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Days after solar cell maker SpectraWatt notified New York authorities that it will shut down its seven-month-old factory and lay off 117 employees, China’s Trina Solar announced Monday that it will invest $800 million in new manufacturing plants over the next three years.

The move by Trina underscores just how difficult it has become for solar startups in the United States to compete against the massive investment being poured into Chinese photovoltaic module makers.

That’s particularly the case for startups making conventional silicon photovoltaic cells such as SpectraWatt, which was spun out of Intel in 2008 with an initial $50 million investment lead by the chip giant’s venture capital arm, Goldman Sachs and other investors.

In 2010, Chinese firms accounted for 72 percent of new photovoltaic manufacturing capacity worldwide, according to a survey by iSuppli, a California research firm. Seven of the top 10 module manufacturers are based in China.

As Chinese solar companies like Suntech Power Holdings and Yingli Green Energy have ramped up manufacturing — supported by generous subsidies from China’s government — they’ve cut prices and grabbed big shares of the U.S. and European markets.

Trina, for instance, established its U.S. headquarters in San Jose, Calif., last year and began signing deals, including one to supply utility Southern California Edison with 45 megawatts’ worth of solar panels. (In October, I stood on the roof of a 562,089-square-foot warehouse in Ontario, Calif., that was covered in Trina solar panels.)

In contrast, SpectraWatt’s entire manufacturing capacity is 60 megawatts. On Monday, Trina said it would ship 1,000 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaic cells by the end of the year, an 151 percent increase from shipments in 2009.

The company did not specify how much additional manufacturing capacity would result from the $800 million to be invested in a new plant complex called the Changzhou Trina PV Park.

Photo: Todd Woody

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1 Comment

  1. So once again it comes down to Americans losing their jobs to favor a nation which has pathetic human rights and environmental laws. In California up to 400 square miles of essentially undisturbed lands with endangered species, cultural artifacts and beautiful places for Americans to experience the “Great Outdoors” will be destroyed in the name of environmentalism and renewable energy. And it doesn’t stop there, for just one project which does not even cover 10 square miles of land at Ivanpah Valley over 156 square miles of additional land will become the private property of the environmentalist movement to compensate for the environmental damage done by the project. The enviros insist we put these facilities up which destroys beautiful places, endangered species, and public use. Then they leverage the situation through environmental laws and threats of litigation so that organizations under the environmentalist umbrella become land owners due to the damage they caused in the first place by asking for the execution of this thoughtless renewable energy scheme currently under way. ( Take note, this same practice is starting in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado under a process known as “Solar PEIS” ) What’s wrong with putting AMERICAN MADE solar panels on roof tops and previously disturbed land near the cities? I’ll tell you what is wrong with it: it does not serve the purpose of the enviros to eliminate access for us common people to back country areas. Their desire is closure, the long term net effect is for the environmentalist movement to be the largest land owner in this country next to the government. It’s time we start looking at the cumulative effect of the environmentalist movement as a whole. Keeping our home healthy and clean is a good practice, going so far as to lock the gates and bar public land use by us common citizens is a form of tyranny established under the umbrella of the environmentalist movement.

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