China’s Hanergy has “furloughed” almost all the employees and halted manufacturing at three American solar companies and a German firm it acquired earlier this decade — as well as at its China headquarters.
Unannounced layoffs with no pay or benefits have left more than 600 American workers in the U.S., 180 employees in Germany, and thousands in China unemployed and in the dark.
In 2013, Hanergy acquired gallium-arsenide solar developer Alta Devices for an undisclosed amount. Alta joined CIGS firms MiaSolé, Solibro and Global Solar Energy under the Hanergy roof. With little synergy among the acquired firm’s VC-funded technologies, Hanergy’s solar shopping spree appeared less than focused.
The recent pv magazine article on the layoffs at Alta Devices spurred a number of employees at Hanergy-owned solar companies to reach out and tell their stories.
A MiaSolé employee told pv magazine that Hanergy had left all of its employees (approximately 100 people according to a source) without pay, PTO or expense reimbursement and “closed the doors.”
Atiye Baymam, the chief technical officer at Miasole repsonded: “MiaSolé is on a temporary production shutdown to reduce cost through the holiday season. The company has secured an international investment to further expand production capacity internationally.”
She noted, “A few weeks ago we announced another world record of 18.64% module efficiency on a commercial size flexible PV module (aperture area 1.08m2), verified by Fraunhofer.”
MiaSolé has been on holiday shutdown since October 18.
Global Solar Energy was building CIGS-based flexible solar in Tucson, Arizona until October 10 when it announced that it had “no money for payroll and everyone was sent home,” according to a source who added, “On December 9th they extended the furlough to January 17th.”
According to a December 9 email obtained by pv magazine, “Daily communication with Hanergy Headquarters continues. GSE CEO Lin Hai told [a volunteer steering group] that top funding priorities are still for PTO hours and health insurance for December, as well as items required to keep GSE facility operational.” The email continues: “GSE CEO Lin Hai is working closely with board and leadership team of Hanergy to get funding for GSE.”
Eyewitnesses and pv magazine staff have confirmed that on December 4 at least three Hanergy employees climbed up to the roof of the Hanergy headquarters building in Beijing and threatened to jump off.
The employees were protesting Hanergy’s failure to pay a reported six to seven months months of back pay. After several hours of discussion, they were persuaded to halt their protest.
There have been other protests and lobby sit-ins. According to sources, up to 8,000 employees have not been paid
Solibro was acquired by Hanergy in 2012, but as pv magazine reported, it was hard to establish exactly who owned Germany’s thin-film module maker Solibro prior to its insolvency in November and the loss of 180 jobs.
Last week, pv magazine reported that Hanergy-owned Alta Devices, the world record efficiency holder for single-junction solar cells, furloughed almost all of its Sunnyvale, California staff without pay, notice, or PTO. This was according to several of the almost 250 employees affected.
The statement we received from Charles Marino, the COO at Alta, tried to tell a more positive story:
“I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached between Alta Devices and Hanergy, to allow Alta to bring in outside investors to breathe new life into the company, and to get the thin film GaAs technology leader back on track. We are encouraged by this agreement that allows us to raise funding and we know that we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Why Hanergy is finally consenting to new investment after months of inaction remains a mystery. Skilled employees stranded without pay or health care are going to find new jobs. The good faith of customers and vendors is going to be difficult to regain.
Production remains halted at Alta.
Hanergy’s rise and fall
In 2015, Hanergy became the world’s largest solar company by market cap, and Li Hejun, the founder of Hanergy Group, China’s fifth-richest man. The Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of Hanergy, Hanergy Thin Film Power Group, had a market cap of $14 billion compared to the $5.5 billion market cap of First Solar at that time, an actual solar firm.
The company’s stock price plunged and trading in Hanergy Thin Film shares was halted in May 2015 after news that the company’s finances had been inflated by intra-unit trading. Hanergy was eventually delisted.
Unable to pay its debts, Hanergy was forced to sell its only real asset, a hydro power station to creditors a few weeks ago. The commercial future of Hanergy is uncertain.
Hanergy left its employees in the dark
Hanergy corporate has not responded to inquiries from pv magazine. Unpaid Hanergy employees are also having trouble getting information from their employer on payroll and the future of their companies. Employees have expressed concern over the fate of the thin-film intellectual property and know-how that might be lost.
The U.S. WARN Act requires that an employer provide “notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs.” There are exceptions to the 60-day notice for “faltering companies” and “unforeseen business circumstances.