Abound Solar drops 180 employees as it changes PV lines

The thin film manufacturer has said that it will discontinue the production of its first-generation 10.5 percent efficient modules at its Colorado facilities, in order to "accelerate the manufacturing process and equipment changes needed for the production launch of its next generation high-efficiency module". While 180 employees will be affected, Abound says it expects to resume mass production by the end of 2012. It adds that batches of the module should be available for customer field trials in the summer.

With regards to its workforce, it says that once the updated equipment and new processes are in place, it anticipates that many of the jobs will be recaptured. A spokesperson for the company additionally tells pv magazine that severance pay and benefits were paid to the employees laid off. They added, "We expect to hire as many and potentially more employees when we re-start manufacturing, which we expect to be in six to nine months."

The new "AB2" 85 watt module is said to boast an efficiency of 12.5 percent, verified by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). Already several hundred have been produced in early January on commercial production equipment. When asked at what capacity the new modules will be manufactured at, the spokesperson replied, "We have two manufacturing lines at our facility in Colorado which have a capacity of producing approximately 1.8 million solar modules per year."

With regards to its up to $400 million Department of Energy (DOE) guarantee, Abound says, "The company has been working closely with the DOE which has led to the release of approximately $70 million in loans under that guarantee. Abound is in regular contact with the DOE and the DOE continues to be supportive of Abound and its technology."

Meanwhile, the company says that it will continue to work closely with its suppliers, and that all customer warranties will be honored. With regards to its Tipton, Indiana production facility, it explains that there are long term plans in place, which will kick in once production of its next-generation modules begins. "The company anticipates having an update on a Tipton facility build-out in mid-2013," it writes.

Craig Witsoe, president and CEO adds, "While this is a difficult move with regards to temporarily reducing our workforce, we know that accelerating the introduction of our next generation module will bring significant benefits to our customers and allow us to create even more jobs in the future."

He continues, "Current market conditions are challenging for all U.S. solar manufacturers, but the long-term winners will be manufacturers of the lowest cost per watt, most reliable systems. By focusing our resources to accelerate scale-up of our next generation high efficiency technology, we will sustainably lower total system costs for our customers, increase our own profitability and grow U.S. jobs and energy security."