In what I'm sure had to be a shock to most of those who consider me a value curmudgeon, I wrote last August about actually likingEvergreen Solar (Nasdaq: ESLR ) and thinking it was worth a look for more risk-tolerant investors. Since then the stock has, obligingly, doubled for me. Of course, given the bull market in alternative power, that hasn't been such a rare trick: Other plays like Energy Conversion Devices (Nasdaq: ENER ) , SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWR ) , and SuntechPower (NYSE: STP ) have all done quite well or better.
So what has changed in the Evergreen Solar world since August? Well, polysilicon spot prices are a whole lot higher, and there was a panic when the company announced that MEMCElectronic Materials (NYSE: WFR ) had bailed on its supply agreement. It's also true that a lot of other competitors have continued to add capacity for a market that still is largely dependent on government support and subsidy. Of course, with energy prices being what they are, solar power continues to look like a valid avenue of research and development.
Despite the polysilicon flap, I think Evergreen will come out just fine. A rival supplier, Renewable Energy (REC), came through with a sizable commitment that should pretty much eliminate the worries about Evergreen having enough raw material to run its plants at capacity. And though it's true that the silicon from REC requires extra processing (it's in chunk form instead of granular form), the benefits of Evergreen's String Ribbon technology, with which lower silicon is needed per watt of power produced, should mitigate some of that impact.
Competition still concerns me -- whether it's the smaller companies I mentioned earlier or larger ones like BP (NYSE: BP ) and Sharp -- but I'm still thinking that Evergreen's production technology gives it a meaningful edge. After all, if you can produce your technology at a lower cost, you can compete on price even if or when there are arguably better technologies out there.
Valuation here is still an exercise in hope and faith, but that's not unlike what biotech investors deal with on a day-to-day basis. Personally, I'd get really interested if these shares somehow slid below $10 again (presuming no major disaster or change underlying that slide), but I think there could still be upside even from today's level. Be warned, though -- this is far from a sure thing and it will likely prove to be a very volatile holding.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).