Solar Costs Getting Harder to Cut

The fight for lower costs in solar is a never-ending battle. Those who can lower costs will survive; those who can't are headed to the scrap heap. So every quarter we watch to see where costs are trending and who is moving into a better position in the industry. Where do we stand right now?

This quarter we saw costs actually rise for the first time since solar has grown into relevance. We knew costs couldn't fall forever, but now we're starting to see who is squeezing a few extra pennies out of each panel. Not every company reports cost per watt, but here are four of the major competitors who do:

Company

Cost Per Watt

Change Q/Q

Change Y/Y

First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR  )

$0.77

1.3%

(9.1%)

Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL  )

$1.08

(1.8%)

(25.0%)

Solarfun (Nasdaq: SOLF  ) (internal wafers)

$1.16

3.6%

(22.7%)

Evergreen Solar (Nasdaq: ESLR  )

$1.88

(3.1%)

(16.1%)

Cost leader First Solar hit a bit of a wall in the third quarter, as did Solarfun. Falling silicon prices have helped Solarfun and Trina lower costs, but non-silicon costs are proving harder to cut for everyone.

And the cost-cutting issues are industry wide. Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE  ) reported non-silicon costs of $0.74 per watt, the same as in the second quarter of 2010.

Evergreen Solar is in the process of ramping up its Wuhan facility, which should accelerate cost reductions. Although the 3.1% decline may not look impressive for a high cost manufacturer, this was done at its U.S. Devens facility so cost reductions should be more dramatic in China.

This quarter was most impressive for Trina Solar while other manufacturers struggled with costs. At $1.08, Trina is probably just a few quarters from breaking the $1 threshold joining First Solar in an exclusive club.

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Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of First Solar and Evergreen Solar. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.

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