"The Cleantech Crash" – profiled on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday night – has joined the list of the U.S. government's biggest blunders, wasting approximately $150 billion dating back to the George W. Bush administration.
Ten years ago, cleantech was touted as the future of the energy industry. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs created buzz when they planned to revolutionize clean energy, sparking huge funding programs from private investors and the U.S. government.
Unfortunately, many of these cleantech startup companies folded, and quickly. And in many cases, they cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
There were a number of factors that led to the Cleantech Crash: the economic recession, increasing global competition, poor business models. One of the biggest was the boom in U.S. natural gas production.
The Cleantech Crash left a graveyard of energy startups in its wake. For every success story like Tesla Motors Inc. (Nasdaq: TSLA), there are countless others that filed for bankruptcy or are operating on life support.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, they were the ones that funded the crash.
Here's a closer look at five companies that received huge loans from the Department of Energy – only to fail.
Cleantech Crash: The Biggest Culprits
Solyndra Inc.: The solar energy company Solyndra Inc. has become almost synonymous with the Cleantech Crash. In August 2009, Solyndra secured a $535 million taxpayer-funded government loan, after it had already received $1 billion from private capital funding. At the time of the loan, Solyndra was losing money, faced stiff competition, and had high manufacturing costs.
The government funded it anyway.
Solyndra's innovative idea was to create tube-shaped solar panels to rival traditional flat panels. The panels were innovative in that they took up less space and could produce more electricity.
During their development, however, silicon prices dropped substantially, allowing Solyndra's competition to offer cheaper products. That, combined with a down economy and an unsustainable business model, doomed Solyndra.
On Sept. 1, 2011, Solyndra laid off all of its employees and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy – a $535 million government loan, gone.