Solyndra, the noisiest stealth start-up in Silicon Valley, emerges today as a solar heavyweight.The company brags of celebrity investor (and Virgin megapromoter) Richard Branson.
The company, based in Fremont in a series of large buildings visible from Interstate 880, says it has orders for $1.2 billion worth of its solar panels over the next five years. It has raised more than $600 million and already has 500 employees. And it plans to construct a second, larger plant in Fremont next year.
The photovoltaic market has a range of approaches — in terms of core technology, packaging and target markets. This reflects both the unknowns about technical approaches to grid parity, and also an increasingly crowded, VC-funded startup market. Solyndra is going for lie-flat systems on commercial rooftops, a large market.
Although chip making is now gone, Silicon Valley still has the materials scientists, universities and VCs that put it on the map. The Solyndra founder/CEO is an 11 year veteran of Applied Materials. Of course, we also have a lot of rich (i.e. relatively price-insensitive) “green” consumers and businesses that will buy panels even before they reach parity with on-grid electricity prices.
Thus, despite the high cost of living, the Bay Area (including Silicon Valley) also has a number of photovoltaic startups, including SunPower (already IPO'd), Nanosolar, MiaSole and (stealth mode) Solar Junction. Most of these are in San Jose (which is bigger and cheaper than the Peninsula), including the new UL lab for testing PV systems.
I would be shocked if there's fabrication in the Bay Area in 2015 — this stuff will eventually end up in Arizona or Utah or New Mexico. But still, the new industry is getting off the ground here, which shows that Silicon Valley has a few more acts left before it becomes a mere financial center.