From the courtroom to the board room, here's a roundup of this week's action in the solar power space.
On Monday, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) announced that it's got a thing for thin film. The retailer is rolling out solar power systems at another 20 to 30 sites, and is increasingly favoring the use of thin-film panels, both of the CIGS and CdTe variety. SolarCity will be handling the installations and using panels provided by MiaSole and First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR ) . That's a big vote of confidence in the former, which just recently began selling panels commercially, and a snub to rival Solyndra.
Late last year, LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK ) and Q-Cells got into a legal spat over the terms of a long-term wafer supply contract. Q-Cells said LDK had failed to perform, and sought to pull its hefty prepayment of well over $200 million. I'm sure this had nothing to do with Q-Cells' internal struggles (the firm just recently turned a quarterly profit for the first time since 2008). Anyway, the two firms have finally hammered out an agreement, in which LDK is repaying the full amount by the end of 2011, including $135 million in payments this year. The companies are also adjusting prices for the remainder of the supply contract, which should be favorable for Q-Cells, the buyer.
One discrepancy I noticed in the firms' respective press releases is that while LDK continues to refer to the money in question as a prepayment, Q-Cells refers to it as a loan that was "originally an advance payment for raw material supplies." The latter categorization implies that Q-Cells didn't get much for its money.
On the R&D front, LDK entered into a collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, one of the Department of Energy's research labs. The pair will be sleuthing out various silicon-related solutions.
The biggest news I spotted this week was the acquisition of Recurrent Energy by Sharp. Recurrent has been on the auction block for a while, and I've worried aloud that Suntech Power (NYSE: STP ) would step in and purchase the project developer at a time when the firm's balance sheet leaves a lot to be desired.
Sharp's debt-to-EBITDA ratio is half the level of Suntech's, and the firm is likely in a much better financial position to make this acquisition work. Sharp can now better go head to head against firms such as First Solar and SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA ) , which were two of the earliest adopters of the soup-to-nuts solar model that combines module manufacturing and project development. I don't have a dog in this fight, but good luck to Sharp as it seeks to secure its place in the solar pantheon.