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Solar Panels Don't Work!

Tickers in this article: FSLR
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As one solar company after another goes out of business, here is what investors do not know and promoters will not tell you: Solar panels do not work that well.

Sometimes not at all. But for several years, most solar systems, big and small, were so heavily subsidized, they were practically free. So lots of people did not really care.

Not enough to check the output of their systems. The few who did often had a big surprise.

Shares of First Solar (FSLR) recently took a 10% hit on one day after the company told investors its panels made in 2008-2009 had problems. Here is how the stock has performed over the years:

Data from Best Stocks Now App

It is not a surprise that First Solar's panels failed. It is surprising anyone found out.

As we shall see.

Solar systems fail in a lot of different ways. Let's look at three.

Dirt is No. 1 . Google was among the first to figure this out, maybe because Google was among the first to do a large-scale solar array.

Unlike the owners of most solar systems, Google was eager to learn about how its system performed. Six months after installing its system, Google learned it was only getting about half of the power it expected.

That was the first shock.

The second was realizing that a large solar array was not just one system, but thousands. Each panel a mini-power plant. And the only way to figure out if the individual panels were working was to test each one.

There go your solar savings.

The gang at Google figured out that the farmer next door had plowed a field, kicking up the dirt, knocking down its power. Solar panels have to be cleaned, sometimes often.

And the place where they need the most cleaning is where solar panels work the best: The desert. But that is where water is scarce and expensive.

There go your solar savings.

Lousy panels are No. 2 . Remember Solyndra? Before its well-publicized collapse, Solyndra was well known for its tube-shaped products that were supposed to collect solar power directly from above, and indirectly, reflected from below.

In all the stories about Solyndra, no one talked about how shadows from the tubes cut down on the power.

They found out the hard way in Livermore, Calif. There a movie theater got a lot of attention for installing a roof top solar array -- first of its kind when it was installed in 2009. A year later, technicians found out the system was producing 25% less power than projected.

The movie theater had no idea. I'm not sure they ever found out.

The only laboratory that ever tested the actual performance of Solyndra products figured it out. But it was in Germany and did not receive much attention. Said one energy web site: