In September 2010, BP plc (NYSE: BP) fired 320 workers at its solar panel-making operation in Maryland because it could not compete with manufacturers like First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR), SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR), JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. (NASDAQ: JASO), LDK Solar Co. Ltd. (NYSE: LDK), Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL), and Suntech Power Holding Co. Ltd. (NYSE: STP). Today the company said it would fire another 100 employees in its BP Solar business and shut the business down altogether.
The Financial Times cites an internal memo from BP Solar’s CEO:
The continuing global economic challenges have significantly impacted the solar industry, making it difficult to sustain long-term returns for the company.
A company spokesperson confirmed the closure, “Over the last six months we have realised that we simply can’t make any money from solar.” Falling prices for solar panels have killed a business that BP has operated for 40 years.
On the same day, a solar industry group called the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) has released a letter to the CEO of Germany’s Solarworld US operations urging the company to withdraw a suit filed with the US International Trade Commission seeking tariff protection on solar panels imported from China. The letter states, that the suit “threatens the planned installation of solar electric power systems in the amount of $11 billion in 2012 and the potential installation of $60 billion currently in the total pipeline.”
The letter goes on to note:
SolarWorld’s petition will do far more damage than good to the U.S. solar industry as a whole. CASE’s membership is representative of 97-98% of America’s solar industry, as the large majority of all U.S. solar industry jobs are downstream of solar panel manufacturing in project development, logistics, construction and installation.
Solar panel makers, even including low-cost Chinese providers, are staggering under collapsing prices, while solar installers, like those that are members of CASE, are getting a big boost from the low prices for solar panels. More than 100,000 Americans are currently employed installing solar projects from rooftops to utility-scale. Solar manufacturing probably accounts for fewer than 5,000 US jobs, not counting workers in US owned factories overseas.
It should be no surprise that BP has finally decided to get out completely.