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.