After a year of both progress and stock market turmoil, the solar industry is likely facing a year of transition in 2017. Companies are cutting costs so they can stay afloat, and positioning themselves for growth with new products. This week, a few companies moved in different directions in relation to those goals.
Solar ends 2016 in a great position
If you're hoping to see more solar power produced around the world, you should be very encouraged by new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The group recently reported that the cost of building a solar power plant is down 62% since 2009, and new contracts in Chile and the UAE have been signed for less than 3 cents per kWh, a price that would beat any new coal plant.
Solar is already highly cost effective in sunny countries, but what's even more encouraging is that costs will likely be lower than coal in nearly every country within a decade. It's easy to see how solar could be cost effective today in Chile, Dubai, or states in the American Southwest, but the fact that it's becoming price competitive in the U.K., Canada, and U.S. states like Minnesota has to be encouraging for the industry.
The Gigafactory finally gets off the ground
A lot has been written about Tesla's (NASDAQ:TSLA) Gigafactory over the last few years, but this week Tesla and Panasonic announced the facility is actually producing battery cells. Eventually, the low-cost, high-performance 2170 cells jointly developed by the two companies will end up in Tesla's Model 3. But for now, those coming off the assembly line will be put into the Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2.
2017 could be a big year for Tesla's energy storage business as utilities put rates in place that make home energy storage more viable, and large-scale storage solutions start to be good options for utilities themselves. And now, some of those batteries will be coming from Tesla's Gigafactory.
Is another residential solar growth story going bust?
Last summer, residential solar company Sungevity seemed to have found a bailout from Easterly Acquisition Corp., which would have performed a reverse merger to take the company public. As part of the deal, Sungevity would have gotten access to $200 million of capital, which could have kept it afloat while management tried to steer it toward profitability.
After the first of the year, the reverse merger is off, and Sungevity seems to be in serious trouble. This isn't going to upend residential solar as we know it because Sungevity had just a 1.6% market share, according to GTM Research. But it's a sign of how difficult the business has been for companies in the past year. Tesla's SolarCity had to lower its guidance multiple times, and most companies had to pivot to offering loans instead of long-term lease deals. Sungevity's potential collapse is a another reminder of how hard it is to make money in the rooftop solar business.
Canadian Solar monetizes assets
The year 2017 is going to be a tough year for solar panel manufacturers and developers as demand sags and panel prices continue slump. One of the ways companies are preparing for that is by monetizing assets they have on their balance sheets. Canadian Solar Inc. (NASDAQ:CSIQ) did that just before the end of the year, selling 20 MW of Canadian projects for $115 million and two more power plants in China for $32.2 million.
The cash can now be used to pay down debt, reducing risk for the business, or sit on the balance sheet to create a cushion. No matter how you look at it, an infusion of $147.2 million is good for Canadian Solar long term.