BP Solar: We Hardly Knew Ye

BP Solar is not actually going out of business, but according to BP Solar’s CEO, “BP Solar will shift its strategic direction to focus on large-scale project development activities.” In other words, you won’t be able to buy BP Solar solar modules at SolarTown or anywhere else unless you have a very large project.

BP Solar has not been a very good advertisement for those who promote solar as a jobs-generator. Last year, BP Solar laid off 320 from its manufacturing facility in Frederick, Maryland—just up the road from SolarTown’s offices in Washington, D.C. And now we hear the news of the final death blow as BP Solar is closing the Frederick facility.

BP Solar purchased its flagship solar manufacturing facility from Solarex and just a few years ago, in 2006, it planned to double the capacity of the facility with the promise of more US manufacturing jobs. It sounded so good. But the solar industry has been riding a rollercoaster even as the solar market has increased substantially. This year, this trend has become even more pronounced with price and demand shocks, tightening margins, and oversupply of modules. BP Solar, which has had a difficult time competing, has decided to get off the roller coaster.

I remember talking with BP Solar’s representatives at some trade shows in the last couple of years and always asked them the same question—how does BP Solar compete or differentiate its products. Remember, I should be a friendly audience because we want to represent BP Solar solar modules to our customers. The response, as I recall it, was something like the various standard metrics are not fair to BP Solar’s modules, that BP Solar’s solar modules do much better in the “out years” in terms of efficiency and output, and that BP Solar modules do not crowd all of the cells all the way up to the frame.

I was never sure that was a pitch that was going to win market share. And this year has been particularly rough for solar module manufacturers. It is the irony of the market that as the growth of the solar industry is explosive, the manufacturers have taken it in the shins. Prices are going down, tightening margins. Even the low-cost Chinese manufacturers are hurting. Yingli’s stock is down 26% year to date and Trina is down 20%.

BP Solar was a name in U.S. manufacturing. Now its solar headquarters will be relegated to the dustbin of the history of U.S. manufacturing. We are sorry to see you go.