"Fremont's Solyndra goes from stealth to solar star!" exulted the San Jose Mercury News in 2008. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote "A bright idea for solar power."
The Department of Energy this morning sent reporters copies of old news articles about now bankrupt Solyndra in an attempt to show it was not the only organization taken in by the Fremont solar company. Even the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's MIT Technology Review magazine was taken in, naming Solyndra as one of the "World's 50 Most Innovative Companies" as recently as February of 2010.
"Our reporting on Solyndra, and we did a fair amount, included both fans and critics of the company's technology and business prospects," Bert Robinson, managing editor/print for the Bay Area News Group, said in an email. (BANG operates the Mercury News.)
It may seem as if the DoE is throwing newspaper reporters under the bus, but indeed the department had a point: At one time Solyndra did seem like a promising company. It's possible the company's woes stem not from mismanagement, but from its choice to pursue state of the art solar technology at a time when the world wanted cheap solar.
Experts point out Solyndra was born at a time when the price of silicon, used in traditional solar cells, was exorbitant. So thinking about the future, it worked to develop "thin film" solar cells. Had the price of silicon remained high, Solyndra would probably be around today. Instead, the cost of silicon collapsed, favoring factories that made crystalline silicon cells -- factories that were largely Chinese.
Add to that China's massive support of its solar industry, as much as $30 billion, and disaster for Solyndra was almost certain. In an op/ed in today's USA Today, deputy secretary of Energy Daniel Portman called it "a perfect storm of deteriorating market conditions."
Critics, however, will point out many of these signs were apparently even before the Department of Energy made its loans. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) had been asking the White House for documents relating to Solyndra for years before the bankruptcy.
Testimony is underway in Washington this morning and can be seen here.