We're still a few weeks away from investors getting a peek into fourth-quarter earnings in the solar industry and what management has to say about 2017. In the meantime, we're seeing interesting trends in some of the industry's most important markets and from its most visible companies. Also, it may have escaped headlines this week, but Elon Musk and Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) have made a big bet on solar energy's future. 

Solar panels in a field on a partly cloudy day.

Image source: Getty Images.

Europe and China adapting to cheap solar energy

The global solar industry is going through some very rapid changes that investors should keep in mind. Most notable is the shift of power over the last few years from Europe to China. SolarPower Europe announced this week that solar installations in Europe fell 20% from a year ago to 6.9 GW, a level Germany alone used to surpass on a regular basis. Subsidies have largely dried up and now solar customers are competing on cost, which isn't terribly easy in some of Europe's less sunny countries.  

China, on the other hand, is booming, with around 30 GW of solar installed in 2016, so the country is trying to find ways to slow growth. It cut feed-in tariff rates by 19% to start this year and is going to test a certificate program starting in July. It's not clear exactly how the program will work except that a MWh of renewable energy production will be worth a certificate, which will then be compensated by the government in lieu of other subsidies. 

As Europe becomes less important to the global solar industry, China becomes more so, so getting subsidies right will be key for both regions in the long term. 

SolarCity is on its way out

Tesla Motors officially changed its name to Tesla this week, and the company will soon phase out the SolarCity name altogether. SolarCity was instrumental in bringing solar to hundreds of thousands of people, but Musk's dream of a vertically integrated renewable energy company under one brand needs to be under the Tesla name. 

The most notable upcoming change will be Tesla's marketing of the solar roof, which will directly tie Tesla's future to solar manufacturing and installation. If it succeeds, it will be attributed to Tesla's great engineering and product development machine. Musk has bet big on solar energy, and now Tesla needs to make it a real part of its business without the SolarCity name. 

TerraForm Global catching up 

"Better late than never" must be the model of TerraForm Global (NASDAQ:GLBL) at this point. This week, the company reported second-quarter 2016 earnings, which have been delayed due to SunEdison's bankruptcy last year. 

Revenue in the second quarter was $56 million, net income was $6 million, and cash available for distribution was $43 million. Debt on the balance sheet was $1.21 billion, offset by unrestricted cash of $870.5 million. 

As TerraForm Global moves toward a potential sale, it's important to catch up with required Securities and Exchange Commission filings and give investors a clear picture of operations. While I'm not very bullish on shares, it's good to see a strong cash level that offsets some of the risk associated with the company's debt. But given the uncertainty of TerraForm Global's future, I'm not confident enough to buy the stock today.