Last year, we wrote about how SpectraWatt, a solar spin-off from Intel, laid off most of its employees and shut its doors.
This week, the company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. Think of that as the sequel.
SpectraWatt blamed market conditions for the bankruptcy filing, but there's more to the story than that. Last year, it blamed harsh European winters for its downturn at a time when solar installations were up nearly 100 percent over the year before. The real problem seemed to be that the company was trying to raise millions of dollars in late 2008 and early 2009 and trying to ramp up manufacturing at a time when the established players in solar were firming up their lock on the market and Chinese vendors were lowering the price. On top of that, SpectraWatt didn't have novel thin wafers like Alta Devices or an efficient way to make CIGS panels like MiaSolé. It didn't have a strong utility-scale solar group like First Solar, either.
If it was a computer company, it would have been AST. Remember them? Maybe not.
Similarly, Evergreen Solar declared Chapter 11 a few weeks ago. It too blamed market conditions. Evergreen, however, spent most of its history championing an unusually shaped solar cell that didn't fit well into existing manufacturing processes. Solar prices are down, but that's not the root of all evil.
And the Intel angle? Let's just say Intel has a terrible track record in spin outs. I covered the company for 11 years. It tried to go into internet hosting back in 1998. The effort was killed off soon after. It tried to produce chips for TVs for a few months before an embarrassing retreat. It even made its own consumer electronics.
Between 1999 and 2003, it bought at least 37 companies, most of them communications companies, for a total of $11 billion. Subsequently, Intel sold off almost all of these assets or shut them down. I can count at least three times that Intel entered the smart phone market for the first time.
Intel is one of the best manufacturers in the world. It also has managed to place a large number of alumni at the head of greentech companies. Intel will likely place a number of chips into wind turbines (in fact, it already does), smart grid equipment and home energy management equipment.
But minting startups is just not its forte. SpectraWatt is just another example.