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Bosch Finds Solar Business Unprofitable, Exits 477

Posted by Soulskill
from the no-silver-lining-in-actual-clouds dept.
New submitter rwise2112 writes "German engineering company Bosch said Friday that it is abandoning its solar energy business, because there is no way to make it economically viable.'We have considered the latest technological advances, cost-reduction potential and strategic alignment, and there have also been talks with potential partners,' Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner said. 'However, none of these possibilities resulted in a solution for the solar energy division that would be economically viable over the long term.'"
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Bosch Finds Solar Business Unprofitable, Exits

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  • by RevDisk (740008) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:40PM (#43249535) Journal
    But I'm also aware without government subsidies, it's not economically viable. On the large scale.

    That said, I love having a solar panel on my pack when I'm out hiking. It is a nice option when you're somewhere without access to the grid.
    • I'm curious, what do you plug into your backpack when you're out hiking?
      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        If I were hiking, I'd go for a battery charger for a flashlight, cell phone and/or GPS. I know people who'd go for coffee pots or powered water filters.

        But mostly I can see chargers for those little battery powered nicities.

        • by Rufty (37223)
          I have one of these, clicky [solartechnology.co.uk] which charges a LiPoly unit from a panel on top of my backpack. Well, the LiPoly unit never got fully charged, and then dumping that into a camera or GPS, hardly worth the bother. And you see that wire linking the panel to the battery pack? It got ripped off going through brush. I've seen the BioLite stove, which charges off a peltier from the fire's heat, but I'm not convinced. Any suggestions for something better?
    • by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:49PM (#43249657)

      I have a solar panel just in case all the major cities are wiped out.

      That way I'll still have the internet. Right?

      • That's some good thinking! Shows you have your priorities straight.

    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:53PM (#43249707)

      But I'm also aware without government subsidies, it's not economically viable.

      Nor are most things.

      Government subsidies have been a fact of life since the days of the Pharaohs.

    • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:05PM (#43249831) Homepage

      But I'm also aware without government subsidies,

      The problem aren't government subsidies, but simply that companies in China can produce cheaper solar cells then Bosch can. The solar business is full of companies and lots of competition and it's hard to get a lot of money out of that.

      • by blue trane (110704) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:22PM (#43250081) Homepage Journal

        China's government subsidizes their solar companies to a much greater degree than the US does; that's why Solyndra couldn't compete.

        http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/0320/China-subsidized-solar-panels-US-finds.-Are-tariffs-the-right-response [csmonitor.com]

        the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration determined that Chinese manufacturers had apparently dumped "massive" quantities of solar panels into the US market that were sold far more cheaply than US-made panels. According to the finding, the lower price was mainly because the panels were heavily subsidized by dozens of low-cost Chinese government loan programs and other subsidies.

        • by Solandri (704621) on Friday March 22, 2013 @06:35PM (#43252533)
          You can make all the excuses you want about solar's poor market performance. The bottom line is that solar is far more expensive than other power sources [wikipedia.org]. Frequently by a factor of 2 to 5.

          I'm all for continuing to fund research into improving photovoltaics - they're going to get better eventually. But people have to get it through their heads that the dream of powering our society with sunlight is at present just that - a dream. There are specialized applications (particularly off-grid) where solar is competitive or even ideal. But for powering our society? The reality is that it's currently just about the worst possible choice. And trying to force it into market acceptance with big government incentives will result in a net economic loss, meaning its contribution to the standard of living is negative.

          If you want to insist on clean renewables, wind is far more viable.
          • by dbIII (701233)
            Look up peak loads to understand that there is not one single perfect power source that can do everything.
          • by thrich81 (1357561)

            From the very link you posted, "An EU funded research study known as ExternE, or Externalities of Energy, undertaken over the period of 1995 to 2005 found that the cost of producing electricity from coal or oil would double over its present value, and the cost of electricity production from gas would increase by 30% if external costs such as damage to the environment and to human health, from the particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, chromium VI, river water alkalinity, mercury poisoning and arsenic emission

      • by asm2750 (1124425) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:24PM (#43250109)

        But I'm also aware without government subsidies,

        The problem aren't government subsidies, but simply that companies in China can produce cheaper solar cells then Bosch can. The solar business is full of companies and lots of competition and it's hard to get a lot of money out of that.

        Some solar PV companies in China are also exiting the market. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/03/20/174828432/chinese-solar-panel-maker-suntech-goes-bankrupt [npr.org]

        Fabrication costs need to go down for makers, and ROI needs to go up for consumers.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          And other energy sources need to have their long term costs included in their prices...like CO2 release. Solar will shine once you charge for CO2 release and the damage it causes.
      • by Bengie (1121981)
        We're just getting Chinese rare minerals below market value when they make cheaper solar cells. The last-laugh will be from us when we have land-fills full of "cheap" solar-cells and metal cookwear to supply use with materials in the future.
    • But I'm also aware without government subsidies, it's not economically viable. On the large scale.

      The countries willing to subsidize account for a smaller and smaller fraction of CO2 emissions. To make a meaningful contribution, and be widely deployed in India, Africa, etc., solar has to be cost effective without subsidies. If the money that was poured into subsidies went instead into researching and developing green energy solutions that actually make sense, we would be far better off today.

      • by houghi (78078)

        Subsidizing is supposed to be indirect pouring money into research and development. What would happen in an ideal world is that due to subsidizing, the cost for early adapters will go down. This would mean that more people will be interested, which means prices should go down.

        At some point the price will be so low that it will make a profit without the subsidizing.

        Directly pouring the money into R&D will do less good, because you will still have the high initial price, which will mean a lower amount of

    • by Jeremi (14640) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:22PM (#43250077) Homepage

      But I'm also aware without government subsidies, it's not economically viable. On the large scale.

      Yet. The point at which solar energy becomes cheaper than the competition is called 'grid parity', and it's already happened in some countries [triplepundit.com]. Over the next few years we'll see it happen in more and more places.

      • by Technician (215283) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:53PM (#43250589)

        In some places include the mobile and remote. In my case, I picked up a pannel for the motorhome. Payback on the house is beyond the life of the panel at current electric rates with hydro, wind, and large scale solar nearby. On the motorhome, the longer I can leave the gas generator shut off the better I and my neighbors like it. Besides, electric generation with a motorhome genset is not in parity with local grid rates, thus the payback is measured in a few summers on the road.

      • Yet. The point at which solar energy becomes cheaper than the competition is called 'grid parity', and it's already happened in some countries [triplepundit.com]. Over the next few years we'll see it happen in more and more places.

        So, if profitability is just around the corner, why is Bosch bailing?

      • It is so heavily subsided it isn't funny. For example if you install solar panel, you get to sell your electricity back to utility at a *higher* price than what the utility sell normal electricty (from gas or coal) do. That "cost parity" you cite is actually quite artificial in germany. In fact would the subsidie disappear and the utilitiies pay the market price, nobody would by solar. Low insolation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SolarGIS-Solar-map-Europe-en.png most germany is about 1000 kw.h/m^2/year
    • by spire3661 (1038968) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:24PM (#43250117) Journal
      It doesnt have to be a full panacea to useful and viable. Right now im planning on converting my home to full LED lighting with some modest sized panels. After that ill work on putting all my computer and networking gear on the solar system, etc. It doesnt have to be an all or nothing proposal and it doesnt have to fully pencil out to be viable. Powering all my lighting and computers via solar is a damn good start.
    • by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:46PM (#43250471)
      Coal isn't economically viable either unless you subsidize it. Like allowing unlimited CO2 emissions...

      Charge coal to handle that and it fast becomes unprofitable.
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      It's viable. Without subsidies, I would get a 5-year pay-back, but I don't have a good install location. The real reason it's not viable for Bosch is that the profit margins competing against the Chinese aren't high enough to justify being in the market. It's not that PV isn't a viable product, but that they can't make enough profit on it.
  • FINANCIALLY viable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Errol backfiring (1280012) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:42PM (#43249553) Journal
    They probably mean that they cannot make enough money on it. Economically viable means that your situation (literally your household) improves. Most probably they are economically far more viable than cheap polluting alternatives.
    • by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:42PM (#43249561)
      In TFA: "European makers of solar energy have accused low cost Asian competitors, especially manufacturers from China, of creating the trouble for their western peers, partly by flooding the market with products at prices far below production costs."
      • by M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:49PM (#43249653)

        It's called dumping and it is working, Chinese dumping was the main reason EU and US removed the benefits.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          What I find ironic is that the US Congress "saved" Harley when there was legit competition from overseas motorcycle makers by levying punitive tariffs.

          However, something as vital to our national security as energy independence, Congress lets China dump panels on the market for less than the cost of the rare earths in them.

          Ironic this. Even more ironic was the fact that 3-5 months before the dumping happened, every major US solar maker was being inundated by intrusion attempts, both foiled or successful.

          I'm

          • by nedlohs (1335013) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:20PM (#43250055)

            Why would you not want to let China handle all the pollution and production issues and then sell you the product at less than the cost of the raw materials?

            Just stock up enough of them to give local production time to start up if the freebies stop flowing in.

          • Don't worry the bikes that Harley was complaining about was 2 cycle dirt bikes, the Japanese had developed that market in the US, with some competion from Europeans like Husqavarna; Harley jumped into the market and got their asses handed to them. Even with the protective tariffs, Harley got beaten in that market. If I want a Harley I want a a 2 cylinder rumblely vibrating cruiser with massive torque, not a dirt bike.

            • by gander666 (723553) *
              Not quite right. Harley was getting their asses handed to them by the Japanese 750CC bikes. Better performance, reliability and fuel economy for a lot less. Congress (at the urging of St. Reagan) instituted a tariff on 750CC bikes and above. It just caused all the makers to make their bikes 700CCs to avoid the tariff.

              The 2 stroke dirt bikes was a 70's folly by HD. They imported and rebadged Aeromacchi bikes from Italy. They were true pieces of shit, even less reliable than the Bultaco's of Spain.
          • by AK Marc (707885) on Friday March 22, 2013 @04:05PM (#43250765)
            It's not dumping. Their cost of production is less than the sale price, so it's not dumping. The PV makers in China are making a profit. We just aren't used to such small margins (expecially when not needed, as pricing 10% below your competition is just as good as pricing at half, but China is actually more capitalistic than the US and doesn't price on "value" but "cost plus" resulting in a much lower price), and yes, the Chinese government is subsidizing the local rare earth mining, but the US is subsidizing resource development as well.
      • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:15PM (#43249975)

        I'm surprised they didn't institute anti-dumping tariffs like they did when Chinese companies start dumping cheap clothing on Europe. Considering the EU's usual tendencies I wonder what are the distinguishing factors here.

      • Seems we should take advantage of the situation, using funds from low-to-zero interest treasury bills sold to the Chinese to buy these below-cost panels from the Chinese. That way we get the Chinese government to doubly fund our efforts to get away from dirty energy imports.
    • by ilguido (1704434)
      The article reads:
      "The solar energy division, which employs about 3,000 people, lost around 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) last year."
    • Well, they just need to think like printer manufacturers.

      Just give the damn solar panels away and make your money off the photons.

  • Unprofitable (Score:5, Informative)

    by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:47PM (#43249623)
    The reason it is unprofitable is because China is flooding the market with panels that cost less than the production cost. If China was punished for its behavior, these companies would be able to compete and stay in business.

    "European makers of solar energy have accused low cost Asian competitors, especially manufacturers from China, of creating the trouble for their western peers, partly by flooding the market with products at prices far below production costs."
    • by z4ce (67861) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:51PM (#43249679)

      I hate it when countries make stuff for us for free or below cost. Maybe we should punish them buy sending them some free/discounted stuff. I'm sure that will teach them a lesson they won't soon forget.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        Maybe we should punish them buy sending them some free/discounted stuff. I'm sure that will teach them a lesson they won't soon forget.

        That does nothing to help our domestic market and would probably involve government subsidies (aka spending) just to hurt China.

      • Re:Unprofitable (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ziggitz (2637281) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:04PM (#43249823)
        It's a huge problem if they selling them below their own production costs. It's a strategy to push your competitors out of a market by selling a competing product at a an unsustainable loss. When the competitor leaves the market you use your new found monopoly to ramp up the prices to extortionate rates. The outcome is almost never in the public interest.
        • by z4ce (67861)

          That worked really well with Rare Earth Metals..
          http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/12/23/rare_earth_non_monopoly/ [theregister.co.uk]

        • by Rockoon (1252108)

          It's a huge problem if they selling them below their own production costs.

          You are ignoring the real fundamental problem with this market in order to play the "those evil Chinese and their dumping" card. Its being intellectually dishonest.

          The real fundamental problem is that few people want these PV cells even when sold well below cost. This Chinese dumping and its results is a very good indicator that we arent anywhere close to a healthy sustainable PV market that ultimately benefits everyone involved. Maybe someday we will be, but that day certainly isnt today.

          We could argu

      • Re:Unprofitable (Score:5, Informative)

        by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:06PM (#43249847) Homepage Journal
        People have been doing that, and causing some of the Chinese producers to bankrupt themselves [bbc.co.uk] already, even with all of the government subsidies and kickbacks.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BLKMGK (34057)

      While I agree that the dumping is a problem high cost is an issue all around. It makes sense to invest in this technology IMO but with power prices where they are it's a low incentive to get people to move. The payoff on the system I looked at was something well over 10 years - who stays in a home that long? I do and have but we're now talking 1- MORE years! Push costs down on this technology and I can see people investing in it but until that happens even the panels being dumped aren't enough to push price

      • Re:Unprofitable (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Smidge204 (605297) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:31PM (#43250229) Journal

        The payoff on the system I looked at was something well over 10 years - who stays in a home that long? I do and have but we're now talking 1- MORE years!

        1) Half of home owners stay in their home at least 10 years. Buying a new home is a good time to do remodeling and renovations, so it's also a good time to install PV solar.

        2) Roughly a third of home owners stay in their home at least 20 years.

        3) A PV system adds value to the home which can be used as a potential selling point and increase the asking price if you decide to move, so it's not like the entire unrecovered cost of the installation is lost.
        =Smidge=

        • by BLKMGK (34057)

          Honestly in my area, until the bottom fell out, people really didn't seem to stay long. I also was truly worried that rather than adding to the value of the home a new homeowner might try to bring the price down over maintenance concerns - I know I'd be a little hesitant without fully checking a system out and I LIKE this stuff. The cost was just too high for the production offered. Make me the same offer at say $15K for 3K or maybe a little more for 4K and I think I'd have jumped on it. That's not cheap bu

  • I put all this money in the bank and don't have it anymore, at least for a long time. In the short term, is unprofitable.
  • Instead of mega projects we need a hybrid domestic appliance refrigeration unit.

    • You mean one powered by a solar-cell that's driven by the light in the refrigerator? But what happens when you close the door?
  • Solar is great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bhlowe (1803290) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:53PM (#43249709)
    I have solar and an electric car. It is an amazing combination. A 10Kw grid-tie system is now about $3/watt installed, and that drops to $2/watt after a 30% tax credit. If most new houses built included a solar panel on the roof, I could see the US becoming energy independent in a decade.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Which electric car?

      I have been looking and none seem to be worth it just yet. As much as I would love to abandon gas I can't see spending luxury car money for a econobox.

    • Re:Solar is great (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BLKMGK (34057) <{morejunk4me} {at} {hotmail.com}> on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:06PM (#43249859) Homepage Journal

      I looked into this myself. With the 30% credit and for a 3KW system the vendor was offering it was right around $30K using 280watt panels. My bills are actually pretty low, well below $200 on the worst month and power here is fairly cheap. The guy was figuring efficiency levels fairly low and I'd have probably done better but the payoff for this system was quite long. I decided to skip the system, the wattage potential was too low and the payoff far too long. I have a South facing home but apparently need more roof. The vendor also seemed to be pricing high and with no State incentives I just couldn't see myself doing it, I wish I could.

      Bosch exiting the market isn't good IMO. They have been doing this a very long time and for them to find the business untenable really signals that the market may not be healthy. I do understand their frustration at the dumping that has occurred but if you price panels those are the ones that are actually affordable. They really need to drive prices downward or the price of electricity needs to rise a great deal before it's worth it - at least when there are so few incentives. Overall I would agree that we need to get more people into solar, yes even with Govt. incentives. Once the install hurdle is passed the damned things produce power for a good long time during peak usage hours. It simply makes sense as a nation to do this IMO but until prices to the consumer come down I don't see any mass movement in that direction :-9

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        I looked into this myself. With the 30% credit and for a 3KW system the vendor was offering it was right around $30K using 280watt panels.

        Then they were ripping you off severely. You can buy 300 watt panels for about $400 apiece delivered (you would have to split the order with one of your neighbors because of minimum quantity requirements, mind you). And a 3 kW inverter should cost under 2 grand, for a measly $6,000 in total materials cost. That suggests they were going to charge you a whopping $24,000

        • Re:Solar is great (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 22, 2013 @05:32PM (#43251873)

          I'm a solar installer, based in Switzerland.
          For $25K I fly with my buddy to wherever you are (presumably in the US somewhere), and install a 3kW PV-System, everything included. Seriously.

          Here is my offer:
          Panels: 12 Trina TSM 245 $200 each, total $2400
          Inverter: SMA Sunny Boy 3000 $1200
          Installation Cost: $3000
          Transport Cost Material/Tools: $2000
          Flight from Europe to somewhere US and back for two person: $5000
          Getting all permits and eventually "bribe", err hire a local electrician: $2000
          2 weeks accomodation, which consist of 13days vaccation and 1 day working: $2000
          Profit: $7400

          Just give me a call

          Markus Amsler
          Eigenstrom GmbH
          http://www.eigenstrom.ch
          markus.amsler@eigenstrom.ch
          ++41 62 877 18 14

  • by TheCarp (96830) <sjcNO@SPAMcarpanet.net> on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:55PM (#43249723) Homepage

    Seriously, do I have to think of everything?

    Look you can produce a product, put it on the market, blah blah blah. Fuck that. Do what lockheed does.

    1. Open a number of plants within the US, get the politicians to give speeches about how wonderful each plant will be locally. Make sure to choose towns that would be as deastated as possible by any future plant closure.

    2. Lobby congress directly to buy the solar panels as a national security issue, and ignoring any irresponsible departments who claim they are not cost effective or they don't need them.

    3. If #2 doesn't work right away, threaten to close individual plants, rinse and repeat until congress orders enough to ensure your profits. Be sure to tell your employees that the plant might be closing because of the uncertainty around government orders. Try to get the whole town involved.

    4. Once they are buying them, get them to throw a few orders into the foriegn aid bucket. (Isreal needs solar power to keep it safe from Iran!)

    5. Profit.

    • by alen (225700)

      make sure you open your plant in the middle of no where. no one wants your pollution around their homes

    • Essentially do what the Chinese are doing, but add a crapload of special interest cash into the system. This would work. (I didn't say this was a good thing, I said this would work.)
  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:04PM (#43249817) Homepage
    Look, in every business, there is going to be a low cost provider, a high quality provider, and a bunch of also rans.

    The low cost provider will ALWAYS make money.

    The High quality provider may or may not make money.

    The also rans usually get eaten up by the low cost provider.

    The fact that your particular company fails in a business is a failure of YOU, not the business. It means you can't compete with the rest of the world.

    When Bosch leaves, it lets everyone else raise their prices just a little bit.

    Maybe that will be enough to make the rest of the corporations profitable. Or maybe some more 'also rans' may have to quit because THEY are losing money.

    But I guarantee you, once enough also rans have left the business, the rest of the people will make money hand over fist.

  • by qwidjib0 (900833)
    Just makes things easier for SolarCity.
  • How long term? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:12PM (#43249947) Journal

    Petroleum isn't economically viable over the long term either.

  • It's a magical device that continuously spits out money. How the hell can they not make money on solar arrays? Technology is moving forward to the point where nobody in their right mind would have a hydrocarbon plant in a sunny area because it would actually cost more and produce less.

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