This Week in Solar

They say skinny is the new black. No wonder, then, that thin-film players stole the spotlight this week.

Last Friday, we saw start-up Solyndra file for an initial public offering. But filing the papers doesn't guarantee an IPO. Just look at China's Trony Solar, which just this month pulled its offering in the face of investor indifference.

There are a few features that might make Solyndra stand out, however. First, the company has landed a loan guarantee of more than a half-billion dollars from the Department of Energy for a new factory in California. That significantly decreases the risks of the company's expansion, and, like A123 (Nasdaq: AONE  ) , gives it the glow of political favoritism. Second, this is an American company, and U.S. investors may be more inclined to back a homegrown outfit.

Just as noteworthy is Solyndra's unique technology, which involves cylindrical modules. The company believes that this format maximizes sunlight collection, since the modules pick up 360 degrees of direct, diffuse, and reflected light. Because the panels can be placed horizontally on a rooftop, rather than tilted, Solyndra argues that more panels can be placed on a rooftop, thus delivering the lowest levelized cost of energy.

Targeting commercial rooftops means that Solyndra will be challenging players like SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA  ) , Suntech Power (NYSE: STP  ) , and Energy Conversion Devices (Nasdaq: ENER  ) . I would need to see more performance data before getting too excited about this new offering. Dividing the new facility's capital cost of $1.38 billion by the 500 megawatts of anticipated capacity yields a cost per watt of $2.76, which is quite steep. The company needs to generate a whole lot more electricity per rooftop to be competitive.

First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR  ) , the thin-film king, made headlines this week on several fronts.

First, it announced that it's in talks to build a French manufacturing facility with partner EDF Energies Nouvelles. All of the plant's output would be sold to EDF EN for the first 10 years. This would mark First Solar's second European facility, after its German plant.

Second, and less encouraging, was some news on First Solar's pipeline of utility-scale projects. The company pulled one application in Colorado, while the Bureau of Land Management denied applications for four California projects that totaled around 2.5 gigawatts. A Wedbush Morgan analyst also warned that permitting issues and lawsuits could hamstring a 550-megawatt project elsewhere in California.

Maybe it's for the best that Solyndra is sticking to rooftops. This utility-scale business isn't for the faint of heart.

First Solar and Suntech Power are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Check out the newsletter's other favorite bleeding-edge businesses with a 30-day free trial.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (8)

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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 December 24, 2009, at 2:26 PM, jgmjgm wrote:

    The Bureau of Land Management DID NOT deny applications for four California projects that totaled around 2.5 gigawatts.

    Instead, First Solar let the applications lapse,

    (http://www.thestreet.com/story/10651455/1/first-solars-us-am...,

    and didn't provide any explanation.

    First Solar's "explanation" for withdrawing its application for the 150 MW project in Colorado was to "work on higher-priority and 'nearer-term' projects".

    (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN2220089620091222?rpc=77).

    There are two observations here:

    1) It won't necessarily be more difficult than previously thought for other solar companies to get approval on Bureau of Land Management applications.

    2) First Solar bought these major projects from OptiSolar, paid up-front application fees, then walked away from them without any news release. Media should keep after them for an explanation.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 4:11 PM, XMFSmashy wrote:

    A FSLR spokesperson says:

    "It's premature to say that any First Solar project applications have been cancelled by the BLM"

    More here:

    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/first-solars-pro...

    TS

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 8:39 PM, goldenfoot wrote:

    I cannot see any merit on Solyndra's cylindrical solar module design on checking on their website.

    + It doesn't need to be tilted to face the sun. COOL.

    + Hence, it can pack closely for higher roof coverage. COOL.

    - BUT it uses more raw materials in the cylindrical design. I mean the north facing side of the module is getting no direct sun, only diffused light. That's not efficient. That's explain why Solyndra's solution is still costly.

    (besides, the cylindrical shape of their cell is in fact a natural tilt arrangement to fact the sun towards the south)

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2009, at 10:38 AM, feroze562 wrote:

    live vedio please

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