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Last Week in Solar

By Travis Hoium - May 31, 2016 at 9:35AM

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Earnings season continues, Chile bets on solar, and a fire shows how fast one solar technology has failed.

Solar stocks had another wild week with shares moving up and down on seemingly little news. Oil markets, as always, seem to mix with solar to add volatility -- that's just something that comes with the territory.

There was some important news for some solar companies last week, though. Here are the items you should care about. 

Image source: Trina Solar.

Trina Solar reports a mixed bag

Solar manufacturer Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL) reported earnings on Thursday, and there was some good news and some bad. Module shipments came in at 1.42 GW, down 19.9% sequentially. Gross margin fell from 19.1% in the fourth quarter and 18% a year ago to 17.1% in the first quarter of 2016.  

But Trina Solar reported net income of $26.6 million, or $0.29 per share, something a lot of solar companies aren't reporting today. Then again, net income fell 36.1% sequentially, so operations aren't exactly heading in a positive direction.

Guidance for 2016 is an incredible 6.30 GW to 6.55 GW, but only 220 MW to 260 MW will be shipped to downstream projects. Since system development is the area that's become most profitable for solar companies, I think investors should want to see more development taking place worldwide. For now, Trina Solar will focus more on panel manufacturing. 

Big solar projects are starting to take hold in Chile. Image source: SunEdison.

SunPower takes on Chile's solar market

SunPower (SPWR -1.01%) and Total (TTE 0.36%) announced that they have signed an agreement with the Metro of Santiago in Chile to provide clean energy for the public transportation system. The project will sell 300 GWh per year of energy to Metro of Santiago from a 100 MW solar energy-generating system in La Higuera and Vallenar. The project is expected to be completed by the end of next year.  

SunPower and Total also announced a 15-year power purchase agreement to sell 500 GWh per year of solar energy to Chilean utility company Colbun S.A. The power will come from a 164 MW solar project, although details of location and ownership were sparse.  

These deals not only add to SunPower's growing backlog in 2016 and beyond, but they demonstrate the company's ability to win in competitive markets. The Colbun project was a competitive tender process with 13 participants proposing 20 different power purchase agreements, but SunPower prevailed. This follows a 500 MW win in Mexico earlier this year. If SunPower can make money building solar systems bid into the competitive market, it bodes very well for the company's future.

A solar plant goes up in flames

Two years ago, I criticized the Ivanpah concentrated solar plant, calling the power tower technology that drives it "already dead." Since then, it's been revealed that Ivanpah has been underperforming its power purchase agreement and had to get a waiver to not default on contracts. This week, the plant caught on fire.  

NRG Energy (NRG 1.75%), which owns the plant, says it could be back online in three weeks, but it seems like the damage is done. Ivanpah is uncompetitive from a cost perspective and can't even get basic operations right. Don't expect concentrated solar, which was once a very promising technology, to make a comeback anytime soon.

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