Hanergy-owned Alta Devices reportedly lays off 250 employees without notice

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From pv magazine USA.

Several of the 250 workers employed by Hanergy-owned Alta Devices, the world record efficiency holder for single-junction solar cells, have told pv magazine the company has furloughed almost all staff in Sunnyvale, California without pay or notice.

Chinese thin-film manufacturer Hanergy acquired gallium arsenide solar cell maker Alta Devices for an undisclosed sum in 2013, along with CIGS thin-film companies Solibro, MiaSolé, and Global Solar Energy, in a roll-up of some of the solar venture capital excesses of the last decade.

LH Equity Research wrote at the time that the thin film acquisitions were “questionable” and made “with the sole purpose of being able to tell stories”. Solibro ceased operations last month.

Breaking efficiency records

Before its acquisition, Alta had raised more than $120 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins, New Enterprise Associates, August Capital, Crosslink Capital and multinational conglomerate Dow Chemical.

Alta made technical strides in flexible gallium arsenide (GaAs) PV, setting records for the materials system and boasting a National Renewable Energy Laboratory-verified 29.1% cell efficiency for a single-junction device without concentration. The theoretical maximum for a single-junction device – the Shockley-Queisser limit – is 33.5%.

Alta used an epitaxial lift-off technique pioneered by Eli Yablonovitch which produced 1 micron-thick flexible layers of GaAs. The company had 150 kW of cell production capacity in Sunnyvale.

Despite its reportedly high costs, Alta was gaining customers in the unmanned aerial vehicle and space industry sectors including Boeing and AeroVironment and boasting annual revenue of $10-15 million, according to one furloughed employee. The burn rate, however, was in the range of $45 million per year.

‘What the hell happened to Hanergy?’

“Management went dark” in what appears to be a mass layoff and shutdown, according to one source, who told pv magazine the development was “surprising” and they “didn’t see it coming – Hanergy just stopped funding us”. There is talk of a search for funding to revive the company but most of the employees are already in the wind. The last payroll date was on October 4.

There were four cars parked in Alta’s large and empty lot in the middle of Monday’s working day.

One source noted Hanergy had given Alta five years they wouldn’t otherwise have had and invested “quite a bit of money” in raising the headcount from 45 to 300 people.

The parent company is no stranger to controversy with U.K.-based newspaper the Financial Times having previously “found some unconventional practices behind Hanergy Group’s once soaring fortunes. It has been racking up enviable revenues largely through sales between its listed subsidiary, HTF, and itself.”

A furloughed employee asked: “What the hell happened to Hanergy? Where did all that cash go? Who owns them?”

No pay, no notice

Alta’s 250 employees appear to have lost wages, vacation time, sickness pay and expenses reimbursement when the plant was closed without notice. The U.S. Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act requires an employer to provide “notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs”. There are exceptions, however, for “faltering companies” and “unforeseen business circumstances”.

pv magazine has attempted to contact Hanergy for comment.