This Week in Solar

The Intersolar North America event was in full swing this week, and that means there's a lot of news to cover for solar manufacturers. With investors hoping a weak first half of the year turns into a strong second half, any good news would be welcome. Let's get right to it.

A peek into the second quarter
The second quarter is widely expected to be a weak one for solar manufacturers; ReneSola (NYSE: SOL  ) gave us a peek into just what to expect as earnings season begins.

The company cut its total solar wafer and module shipments to a range of 290 MW to 300 MW, from a previous expectation of 330 MW to 350 MW. Revenue expectations were also cut drastically from a range of $280 million to $300 million to a range of $235 million to $245 million. As a result, gross profit expectations fell 8%, to between 17% and 19%.

Signs of a U.S. awakening: China perks up
Yingli Green Energy
(NYSE: YGE  ) is certainly pumped up about its progress in the U.S. market and announced it has reached 250 MW of cumulative shipments in North America. As bad as solar news has been worldwide this year, in North America Yingli delivered more modules in the first half than all of 2010.

All of that adds up to an expected 15% market share for the Chinese solar manufacturer. If the U.S. can grow demand quickly in the next few years, that should be great for Yingli investors.

The solar market is also growing in China, where LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK  ) signed 35 MW of deals this week. That may be relatively small, but in emerging markets we'll take anything we can get to build up sales.

New products hit the market
Trina Solar
(NYSE: TSL  ) announced that it is prepared to ship its new Trinamount rooftop system to installers in the U.S. There are three versions of the product, which will be used on tile roofs, pitched roofs, and commercial PV systems. Trina expects this to help lower overall system costs and highlights the industry's focus on balance of system costs, not just panel costs.

Suntech Power (NYSE: STP  ) launched two new panels for sale in the Americas. The first is a 245-watt panel designed to reduce shading on the cell surface to improve light absorption. The other is a 290-watt panel for utility-scale projects that includes a higher output wafer and better light-induced degradation.

Suntech also increased its limited warranty from five years to 10, hopefully a sign that the company has increased confidence in its products.

ReneSola also said it is shipping the new Virtus wafers and modules, which have cell efficiency rates of 17.5% to 18.2% for the high-end cells. This continues Chinese manufacturers' renewed focus on efficiency in an effort to catch up to industry leader SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA  ) .

Last and maybe most notable is the announcement from United Solar, a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices (Nasdaq: ENER  ) , that it has reached a cell efficiency of 16.3% for a small-area cell. This is still a long way from making it into an actual panel, but I've criticized Energy Conversion Devices in the past for making panels that are way behind the efficiency curve. So this week I applaud the company's move and hope it will help turn around the company's financial position. I'll be watching closely.

Foolish bottom line
Until we start hearing from management just how the second half of 2011 is shaping up, it's going to be hard for solar stocks to get out of their funk. But for now solar investors can take comfort in the fact that manufacturers are slowly and steadily improving products and seeing improving conditions in important markets like China and the U.S.

Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of SunPower. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2011, at 3:13 PM, ecdfan wrote:

    Travis:

    You fell for ENER's lies again. ENER obviously has not reached any 16.3% cell efficiency, and the press release is fraudulent. You should read the 1985 fraudulent press release that announced 12.2% cell efficiency. Guess who delivered the "great news" then? Yeah, you guessed it right - Mr. Guha, the current Chairman Emeritus, or whatever.

    Here is the text:

    COPYRIGHT 1985 PR Newswire Association, Inc.

    PR Newswire

    September 4, 1985, Wednesday

    DISTRIBUTION: TO BUSINESS DESK AND TECHNOLOGY EDITOR

    LENGTH: 342 words

    DATELINE: ROME, Sept. 4

    BODY:

    ROME, Sept. 4 /PRN/ -- An unprecedented energy conversion

    efficiency of 12.2 percent in solar cells made of proprietary

    amorphous material alloys has been achieved by scientists in Troy,

    Mich., Stanford R. Ovshinsky, president of Energy Conversion Devices,

    Inc. (OTC: ENER), announced in Rome today.

    Ovshinsky said that ECD, in a joint venture with The Standard Oil

    Co. (Ohio) ("Sohio"), is already manufacturing one-foot-wide, up to

    1,000-foot-long continuous-strip solar cells with efficiencies in the

    8-percent range.

    The new high efficiency was achieved in a one-square-centimeter

    solar cell consisting of three extremely thin, vertically stacked

    sub-cells made of proprietary fluorinated amorphous materials, each

    sub-cell sensitive to a different color in the solar spectrum

    rainbow. The cells were produced by Sovonics Solar Systems, a

    partnership of ECD and Sohio, and reported to the 11th International

    Conference on Amorphous and Liquid Semiconductors in Rome.

    The 8-percent efficiency in the commercial-size cells now being

    manufactured is achieved with two-layered or tandem cells. Looking

    to the future, Ovshinsky said, "From the start of our work in

    photovoltaics, we have consistently been able to duplicate laboratory

    results in our large-area operations. This is an important step

    towards achieving higher efficiency commercial solar cells.

    "Another major advantage of multi-layer cells is excellent

    stability. The triple-cell design has proven in our laboratories to

    retain over 90 percent of its efficiency over a 20-year period. Other

    high-efficiency amorphous solar cells lose as much as half of their

    efficiency after only 24 hours of illumination."

    Subhendu Guha, Ph.D., delivered an invited paper at the

    conference in Rome, describing the amorphous materials that enable

    Sovonics to achieve these high-efficiency, stable cells. The

    laboratory work was done by a team headed by Jeffrey Yang, Ph.D

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