Greentech Media has long viewed Samsung and the Korean industrial machine as a force to be reckoned with in greentech and solar.
But the downturn in the solar market might be proving too much for even Samsung to bear.
A report in the Korea Times has quoted an unnamed Samsung official as saying, "The solar-cell market is reeling from continued oversupply amid aggressive expansion by Chinese cell manufacturers." The official continued, "We are evaluating the business on a 'zero-base.'"
Last year, Samsung said it would invest approximately $20.6 billion and boost employment by around 45,000 as part of its expansion into solar, energy efficiency, light-emitting diodes and other green markets. Samsung had said it wanted to be number one in solar by 2015. Samsung also said it would invest around $6.6 billion into solar and wind projects into Ontario.
Now, Samsung is planning a cut of 40 percent in its investment plan, according to reports. "Samsung’s solar business has so far failed to yield any returns," according to a fund manager from a Europe-based investment bank in Seoul.
Samsung's endeavors in "solar batteries" have not yielded any profits, nor has its efforts in crystalline silicon production lines for solar cells. An industry expert was quoted in the Korea Times article as saying, "Samsung is looking to unload the equipment for crystalline silicon production at a heavy discount."
Greentech Media spoke with Samsung executives last year and they expressed an interest in dominating solar everywhere from silicon to thin film to inverters.
"Samsung may want to acquire thin-film solar assets to acquire patent technologies and to put the ailing solar business on the right track in the shortest time," said a Samsung source in the same article.
Nevertheless, Korean industrial giants continue to invest in greentech, solar, and American companies.
Hanwa Solar bought a controlling interest in China's SolarFun in 2010. HelioVolt received a white-knight investment from Korea's SK Innovation for its CIGS technology in September of last year. Stion, also a CIGS vendor, received a major investment from Korean equity firms as it established a Korean subsidiary. Samsung Fine Chemicals recently entered a joint venture with U.S.-based PV wafer maker MEMC to manufacture polysilicon.
Other Korean producers such as Shinsung Holdings, Millinet, and Hyundai Heavy Industries have planned significant investments in cell manufacturing for 2012 and beyond.
Depending on one's viewpoint, Samsung exiting the crystalline silicon business could be a sign of timidity or genius.