There continues to be incredible momentum in the solar industry. New states and countries are seeing the value of solar, and most importantly, the economic cost of electricity from solar power continues to drop. As it does, we're seeing more and more companies post a profit on top of strong growth rates.
It's these earnings reports where we'll start this week in solar before moving on to news that you may have missed from the industry.
I'll start with First Solar, which is still a highly profitable company but continues to be on the wrong side of the future of the solar industry. The company earned $4.35 per share for investors in 2013, but gross margins were down from 27.3% in the fourth quarter a year ago to 24.6% last quarter, and plant utilization was just 83%.
The reason First Solar is falling behind is its low efficiency modules, which it says it's addressing with improved CdTe panels and an investment in silicon manufacturing based on TetraSun. Until efficiency improves the company will be put under pressure by companies installing more efficient panels, which lower the balance of system costs needed to install solar and lower the cost of each kW-hr of electricity.
SolarCity had the other big report, and the company surprised investors by delaying most if its financial results. We did find out that deployments were 103 MW last quarter and revenue was $47.3 million, but we don't know much about net income or operating costs. Management also reiterated 2014 guidance of 475-525 MW installed. Basically, SolarCity is performing as it expected, which right now has the market very excited.
Finally, SunEdison said that first-quarter system completions would be 135-165 MW and full-year guidance is for 900-1,150 MW completed. Nearly half of that will be kept on the balance sheet, with the goal of pushing them down to a yieldco later this year. That's expected to result in more retained value for shareholders and is a strategy other installers are using as well.
News and notes from around solar
Here are a few of the other news items that didn't hit the headlines this week in solar.
- Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) was awarded a 2 MW rooftop solar project in Jordan, the largest project in the country's history. More importantly, it announced a 24.4% efficient cell jointly developed with the Australian National University. The company is working on building out the manufacturing capacity now.
- SunEdison announced debt financing for 56 MW of solar projects in the U.K. to be completed by the end of March. It also completed an 18 MW project in India.
- Canadian Solar (NASDAQ:CSIQ) announced a $52 million construction loan from Natixis for a 10 MW project being acquired by DIF Infra 3 RE Canada. The company will also supply 18 MW of modules to Hitachi in Japan.
- Yingli Green Energy announced that it will supply modules for 54 MW of projects in the U.K. being developed by Grid Essence UK Ltd.
That's all for this week in solar. Check back to fool.com for the latest on the solar industry and what it means to your investments.
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Travis Hoium has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of SolarCity. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.