10 Solar Survival Strategies

Check out our four-part article here...

Part 1. As any industry matures some companies will fail, some will succeed. This is to be expected, but the solar sector is maturing faster than many thought it would and module manufacturers have been negatively affected by the overproduction of solar panels. As some firms fall by the wayside, the overall opinion from top solar manufacturers still going strong is that “It's just normal growing pains”. As they point out, many companies are making smart decisions and not just surviving, but more here.

Part 2. Canadian Solar has built its business using what the company's General Manager of US Operations, Alan King, calls “virtual, vertical integration”. He says: “We've been able to manage all aspects of our business so that while not benefiting from the current market, at least we've been harmed less than most.” It has done this, King says, by adopting “a better ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing” process which enables the company to contain supply chain more here.

Part 3. In the current environment, even companies not making the standard crystalline silicon modules have been impacted. For most of its corporate life, going back to 1999, First Solar, based in Tempe, Arizona, was a module manufacturer. It made one product, made it well and made it very cost effectively. Indeed, the brand was the cost leader in PV modules for many years and grew fast because of it. “First Solar doesn't use silicon. We use a different semiconductor, Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), and a totally different manufacturing methodology,” says Alan Bernheimer, the company's Public Relations Director, Americas. “Between the fact that we did not use silicon and we have a much less expensive production method to create thin film modules, we enjoyed a great price advantage over silicon PV for many more here.

Part 4. In part 3 of this series, we saw the importance of companies differentiating themselves during these very tough times - finding strengths and capitalising on them: “Pick your areas and do them very, very well. Don't try to do everything for everyone,” explained First Solar's Alan Bernheimer. Of course, the advice is just as valid for small firms as well as large ones and one company showing that you don't have to be huge to be successful in this economy is America's Stion Solar. Headquartered in San Jose, California, it is a a six-year old thin film company.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity