MiaSolé, the Kleiner Perkins- and Vantage Point-backed CIGS solar company, has laid off
30 10 percent of its workforce. A company spokesperson has responded to Greentech Media to state that the firm "reduced its full-time workforce by approximately 10 percent," adding, "The affected staff have been given 30 days notice and the company is supporting each individual with work placement," according to the spokesperson.
I incorrectly printed a figure of 30 percent based on unsubstantiated claims from several parties close to the firm.
We understand that many of the layoffs have occurred in engineering and equipment design groups. This seems to be a rational place for cost cutting -- why maintain an equipment design engineering force when the equipment is already fully designed?
John Carrington assumed the MiaSolé CEO position in December, taking over for Joseph Laia.
The first news out from the new CEO was a plea for a partner, any partner. The CEO was quoted as saying, "A lot of companies are interested in this space, and if we could find the right partner, that could help make MiaSolé a more long-term enduring company [and] that's good for our shareholders and our employees, then I would support that strategy," according to a Reuters piece. "The strategics are actively looking at different players in the market, and I would say that MiaSolé is a company that is included in that," he added.
A source has indicated that MiaSolé is for sale. But every solar company is for sale these days -- except perhaps for First Solar and the leading Chinese crystalline silicon firms.
And now the CEO has had to issue pink slips to a significant portion of his workforce. At one point, the company was making 15,000 modules per week. We have been informed by a number of sources that that figure has dropped significantly.
GTM Research has these estimates for CIGS solar production numbers in 2011:
The layoffs are sad news on a number of fronts. Of course, there is the human tragedy of unemployment in a still-recovering economy.
MiaSolé has the highest mass-produced module efficiency of any thin film firm. Although MiaSolé has made some technical and business progress, it is still bleeding cash in an absolutely pitiless market with a set of VC investors who are likely impatient for an exit. Investors in MiaSolé include Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, Firelake Capital, and VantagePoint Capital Partners. Factory capacity will be about 150 megawatts by the end of the year -- all in Silicon Valley.
Carrington said in the same Reuters interview: "If we don't have something, in my view, something partnered up somewhere in 2012, then I missed. For me, that would be squarely on the CEO." In other words, the VCs are not going to keep the money coming without a large industrial partner on hand.
SunPower found France's Total, HelioVolt found Korea's SK Innovation, struggling Ascent Solar found an Asian white knight in TFG Radiant. There is a long list of strategics that might want a solar partner: oil companies, Samsung, Intel, or Siemens. General Electric seems to be occupied with its cadmium telluride venture in the former PrimeStar Solar.
It is unlikely that we will see a MiaSolé acquisition at a price that would make the VC investors proud -- not in this current market. The firm has raised in the neighborhood of $500 million in VC funding since its founding in 2004. MiaSolé raised most of a $125 million round F in February last year at a pre-money valuation of $550 million. New investors included Voyageur Mutual Funds III, joining existing investors Kleiner Perkins, Firelake Capital, and VantagePoint Venture Partners. Board members include KP's John Doerr, Firelake's Marty Lagod, VantagePoint's Stephan Dolezalek, and Rob Chandra of Bessemer.
We've reported on CIGS aspirant Solar Frontier's one-gigawatt factory. Other CIGS vendors include AQT, Stion, Nuvosun, SoloPower, ISET, HelioVolt, and Ascent.
As always, it comes down to price per watt and LCOE, and MiaSolé still has to prove it can compete with First Solar and Yingli on those performance metrics while making a sustainable margin as panel prices continue to drop. Bankability is another issue and a difficult case to make for a company with only a few months of runway in the bank.
MiaSolé has not disclosed its cost per watt, but a source in the thin-film PV industry estimates it as $1.80 per watt -- a number twice what it needs to be for MiaSolé to be a viable firm.