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Friday, January 9, 2009

OptiSolar: one day, -48% growth

On the 11pm news, one of our local TV stations profiled two local PV companies: one with bad news, one where the news so far is OK.

The bad news was at Hayward-based OptSolar, which is laying off about 300 of its 600 workers. The company’s press release page hasn’t been updated in 5 months and only 2 in 2008. However, press releases are not their thing: the company has long been in stealth mode, with only occasional glimmers of information.

On the TV story, a OptiSolar spokesman is quoted as saying “The economy and access to capital markets have hit us hard.” The best coverage was in the hometown Hayward Argus (sister paper to the San Jose Mercury), which gives the exact numbers as 290 cut and 317 remaining. The paper quotes spokesman Alan Bernheimer as saying
"The major effect of this decision is it suspends our high-volume manufacturing," Bernheimer said.


"In this capital market, we just couldn't finance the costs for our expansion," Bernheimer said. "The current work force simply wasn't sustainable. Our expansion was dependent on access to the capital markets. And those dried up starting last September."
Richard Helfrich, managing director of Alamada Capital, was quoted on TV as saying “I thought they would be one of the survivors because they had access to a lot of capital.”

KABC reported that the second company —  SolarCity of Foster City — had raised enough cash in 2008 to stay alive at least for now. Certainly that’s the experience of most early stage Bay Area tech companies right now: if got money, you’re happy, but if you didn’t get money in time, you have to assume that it won’t be coming for a while (if ever).

The difference here is that with the change of regimes, renewable energy (and other cleantech) firms are hoping for a big flood of Federal support for “green” technologies. Will that be R&D subsidies? Purchase subsidies (like tax credits)? And will they come in a form to help capital-strapped firms launch new products, or only to provide cash flow to firms that have products ready to sell?

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