Solar company Konarka Power Plastic’s bankruptcy announcement early this week was no surprise to some analysts. As presidential candidate Mitt Romney is criticized for backing the technology, Lux Researchanalyst Johnathan Melnik, said he was surprised anyone backed it. “Konarka was better at telling a good story than they were at solar module development,” Melnick said.
Konarka manufactured flexible printed solar modules that could be produced in different colors and on different materials. The technology was never ready for market, according to Lux. “The underlying technology Konarka relied on was expensive, inefficient, and it didn’t last long enough,” Melnick said. “The company spent a lot of time trying to convince people that performance wasn’t that important. But in the end, it is.”
The company raised a lot of money and could have done some good work with it if the product had been viable, Melnick said. While Konarka was in the middle of another funding round, it ran out of money, “showing that $200 million just doesn’t go as far as it used,” according to a release from Lux.
The company was able to raise $200 million because the technology was exciting and new. But it didn’t really work, Melnick said. “For a while they could talk about building-integrated solar,” he said. “But you don’t want it to die in three years if it’s going to be part of a building.”
The downfall of the business might have been the ability of its leaders to sell it. The company raised a lot of money quickly with its colorful story about the possibility of cheap, flexible printed solar material. “They got all this funding and there was a lot of pressure to scale up quickly,” Melnick said. He evaluated the company annually.
“It always amazed me how little progress they ever actually made,” Melnick said.