Solar Millennium, the company that built Europe's first parabolic trough power plants, and which was involved also in the ginormous Sahara solar project, known as Desertec, has declared bankruptcy. Solar Millennium was also developing the Blythe Solar Power Project in the Mojave Desert in California, in a race with South Africa to become the first solar power plant with more than 1 Gigawatt product capacity.
Investors are devastated and partners are scrambling to assess the impacts of the failure of Solar Millennium. The insolvency administrator's first task will be determining if Solar Millennium can continue business operations as the proceedings continue.Solar Millennium's parabolic solar power plants rely on solar thermal energy, using large arrays of curved mirrors to collect the sun's warmth, which produces steam to drive a generator. The so-called Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant can continue to generate power after sunset, using the collected heat. But as prices continue to drop for photovoltaic technology, concentrated solar thermal power is falling out of favor. Additionally, industry insiders bemoan the fact that as soon as the research and development reaches a point where a technology is ready for the mass market, copycats begin their work -- soon flooding the market with similar technology produced at lower costs.
Solar Millenium has already stopped operations in America, where investors have announced their intention to change the Blythe Solar Power Project from CSP to photovoltaic technology (pdf), inducing the US Department of the Interior to suspend permission for construction activities until the anticipated use of a right of way grant has been re-established. This delay will most likely cause the US to lose the race for the first operational solar power plant exceeding 1 Gw capacity.
Hope remains for the Desertec Saharan solar power plant that Matt McDermott dubbed ginormous: Germany's Die Welt newspaper notes that Siemens still believes in the CSP technology, and that all efforts will be made to ensure that projects already started by Solar Millennium will be brought to completion.