News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

California Solar Ups and Downs

A new solar roof in San Francisco | Photo: Brian Kusler/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Small firms try to find their bearings on the very choppy seas of the recent solar market, and the results are all over the map this week. On the downside, Roseville-based SPI Solar announced it will be laying off 30 of its staff after a second-quarter loss of $2.4 million, six times the loss it posted in the same quarter of 2011. SPI specializes in large-scale photovoltaic projects, both for utilities and larger distributed generation projects, but announced today that it will be restructuring what had been a fully-integrated company and contracting out construction services to other firms. The 30 cut positions will be distributed among SPI's office in California, New Jersey, and China.

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In more upbeat news, a pair of Southern California solar firms announced new busness ventures and expansion plans. The City of Industry-based SolarMax Technology, a rooftop solar installation and leasing firm, has announced that it will be moving its operations to downtown Riverside, bringing 1,000 jobs to the Inland Empire city's central business district. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the firm's headquarters will occupy the 165,000-square-foot Food Machinery Corp building near Riverside's Metrolink station, and SolarMax's Southern California installation crews will work out of the space as well. SolarMax intends to open retail locations throughout the state.

Also in the mid-size distributed solar arena, a Walnut-based firm announced today that it will build six solar PV installations in California, totaling a megawatt of capacity. SunValley Solar, founded by Chinese expatriate solar PV engineer James Zhang, will be building the $4.2 million worth of projects with Nevada firm Blue Earth. SunValley is a strongly R&D-oriented company with ties to U.C. San Diego and China's Tsinghua University, and is doing in-house development of new cell coatings and nano-structured PV cell development.

On the non-profit end of things, banking behemoth Wells Fargo just announced that it's plowing $2 million into the Oakland-based NGO GRID Alternatives, whose Solar Affordable Housing Program works to train residents of less-affluent California neighborhoods to install and maintain rooftop solar installations. Since their founding in 2001 by two idealistic engineers, GRID Alternatives has installed over 2,000 solar projects with a cumulative capacity of 6.6 megawatts, all for the benefit of low-income families throughout the state, hile training 10,000 people in solar installation.

Wells Fargo's grant to GRID Alternatives will allow the group to expand its operations to Colorado, a state with plenty of sunshine, bare rooftops, and low-income families. GRID Alternatives' Colorado presence will kick off with a September installation of solar electric systems on homes built by the Denver Habitat for Humanity group.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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