NEW YORK (
) -- Solar investors, welcome to another year of agony mixed with ecstasy (with the former looking to trump the latter again in 2012).
There wasn't much fun in 2011
, but the year did provide us with many thought-provoking issues to which investors hadn't previously given enough attention.
To get the solar panel rolling, here are eight bold, possibly reckless -- if not at least provocative -- questions that will define the fortunes of solar companies this year, and maybe for several years to come. From the future of U.S. solar manufacturing to consolidation and bankruptcy in the Chinese solar sector, the looming global trade war in the sector, and even to the sad topic of
, there is plenty to discuss.
In fact, while 2012 may be the last year in which Solyndra gets headline play, it's a good place to begin our questioning since it may be one of the early headlines for solar in 2012, a New Year's hangover for the sector.
How much will the federal government recoup from its $528 million Solyndra investment?
Those who followed the Solyndra story closely will
remember the rationale
provided by the Department of Energy for why it allowed the Solyndra loan to be extended to a total of $528 million before pulling the company off life support.
The DOE argued this is standard venture capital practice: You build out a manufacturing plant to its full capacity even if it might go bankrupt because that build-out will allow you to get more money back in the event of a bankruptcy. It's some tortured logic, and though it may be the truth in the venture capital world, there are still plenty of people who doubt that this logic will be proven true in the case of the Solyndra auction. The
auctioneers are hopeful
, some skeptical solar analysts much less so.
From class A corporate office square footage to helium leak detectors and robots, we will know soon enough, with an auction of some more Solyndra assets scheduled for February 22 (subject to bankruptcy court approval). You can see what's left to buy of the former solar Camelot
Solyndra, of course, is at the heart of the debate over whether the U.S. should even be in the game of solar-panel manufacturing. It's a good place to segue into our next questions: