BP Solar to close iconic solar-powered building, refocus solar efforts

BP Solar to close iconic solar-powered building, refocus solar effortsIn 1981, Solarex built what was then the world’s largest photovoltaic array as part of its 120,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Frederick, Md. The triangular building’s roof faces south, where passersby on I-70 have a great view of it.

This reporter remembers when it was being built. But it will soon be empty.

Solarex was bought by British Petroleum, now known as BP Plc (NYSE: BP). It had served as a manufacturing facility, but BP stopped producing photovoltaics there over a year ago, according to BP Solar spokesperson Pete Resler. Since then it has served as offices and as a research and development facility for BP Solar, and now the company has decided to close it down and sell it as it refocuses its efforts in the solar market.

At present, 80 people work in the building. It used to have up to 500 employees, according to The Frederick News-Post. When BP Solar moved its solar manufacturing facilities oversees to countries like India and China, it cut 320 positions.

“We don’t need that large a facility anymore to house a smaller number of employees,” Resler said.

BP Solar will close operations at the facility in the first quarter of 2012.

“We announced this week to employees a significant change in strategic direction for the company,” Resler said. “It’s part of a reduction in our staffing worldwide, including Frederick.”

As part of that change, the company will move BP Solar’s headquarters to Houston, Texas, where BP America’s headquarters are. The company also will cease selling its photovoltaics through retail distributors and focus on using its modules in projects that it develops, according to Resler.

The company will continue to produce modules overseas and through third-party manufacturers, and will use either its own solar panels or panels from other manufacturers for future projects.

“We’ve reviewed our strategy extensively over the last few months,” Resler said. “We believe we can be much more competitive focusing all of our resources on projects. The module sales market worldwide is being squeezed by a variety of factors.”

He attributed some of that to the global economy and the falling incentive programs in Europe.

BP Solar has been developing solar projects for a number of years, according to Resler.

“We have approximately 120 megawatts installed to date in Europe, Australia and the United States, and 110 megawatts under construction in those regions,” he said.

Despite the change, Resler said BP remains committed to solar and its other renewable endeavors.

“This is how we’re transforming ourselves as the market changes to remain competitive,” he said.

Photo: Chris Meehan / Clean Energy Authority.