The last year has been tough for the solar panel manufacturing worker. Almost every major module manufacturer experienced layoffs of some kind, all chalked up to “restructuring” after a slowdown of global demand.
A glut of projects made 2016 an explosive year for the United States, nearly doubling the previous year’s installations. The same massive increase was felt globally too. But a 10% drop is expected for 2017 in the United States, and global demand is holding relatively steady. Solar module companies had to ramp up production to meet 2016 orders, but now there are fewer panels needed—hence the layoffs.
Here’s a sampling of what happened:
- Panasonic’s solar wafer factory in Oregon saw 50 job losses in April 2016.
- In September 2016, Canadian Solar cut 130 manufacturing jobs in Ontario and shifted its focus to R&D.
- REC cut 3% of its workforce (65 jobs) in October 2016 but still planned to spend $48 million to upgrade its Singapore facility.
- SunPower said at the end of 2016 it would close its plant in the Philippines and lay off 25% of its workforce (2,500 employees). The company wanted to reduce its annual operating expenses to less than $350 million and continue investing in next generation cell and module technology.
- First Solar plans over the next year to lay off 27% of its workforce (1,600 workers) at its U.S. and international factories. It’s also skipping its much-touted Series 5 module and going straight into the larger Series 6.
- Texas-based Mission Solar laid off 87 workers in October 2016 and announced another 170 job losses in January 2017. It also closed its solar cell production line and will focus just on module production.
- SolarWorld announced in February 2017 400 layoffs over the next two years and a shutdown of its multicrystalline products, shifting exclusively to monocrystalline and PERC. The German company then filed for insolvency in May 2017.
- Suniva announced significant cuts at both its Georgia and Michigan facilities in March 2017 before eventually filing chapter 11 bankruptcy in April.
These layoffs don’t mean each company is on its way out the door, but it does start a game of Survival of the Fittest. Those companies willing to invest in R&D will stay ahead of the competition, noted The Motley Fool, and First Solar and SunPower are investing much more into R&D than other companies.