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This Week in Solar

By Travis Hoium - Feb 10, 2017 at 4:05PM

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Want a job? A new report shows that solar is the place to look, and more growth is expected in 2017.

Just a few days ahead of the solar earnings season, the news coming from the solar industry has been fairly positive. Jobs are up, auctions are strong, and asset sales continue at a steady clip. 

These developments may not make their way to the bottom line immediately, but they still show the industry is headed in a positive direction. Here are the biggest news items for solar this week and what investors should take from them. 

Solar farm with wind turbines in the background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

According to the National Solar Jobs Census from The Solar Foundation, the industry created 51,000 jobs in 2016, up 25% from a year ago, and 1 out of every 50 new jobs in the entire U.S. economy. The census found that 260,077 people work in solar, which is "twice as many Americans as the entire coal industry and just as many Americans as the natural gas industry." 

What may be more amazing is that solar energy is just getting started. U.S. solar jobs are expected to grow another 10% in 2017, and GTM Research predicts global installations will grow 8% annually over the next five years. This is a booming industry for jobs and the future looks bright. 

Auctions bring new lows in solar prices

Reverse auctions have become a popular mechanism for installing solar at a low cost to utilities and as a way to control the number of installations. Mexico's energy auctions last year, which solar dominated, were a leading indicator of what was to come around the world. 

This week, the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh performed a reverse auction for 750 MW of capacity at a solar park that led to bids of 5.3 cents per kWh. In Germany, which has far less solar insolation, the Federal Network Agency accepted tenders in their own auction with an average successful bid of 6.59 euro cents per kWh (6.99 U.S. cents per kWh). 

These are incredibly low bids considering they're unsubsidized. And given the low bid prices, I would expect to see more auctions like this in coming months around the world. 

News and notes

Here are a few more notable items from the week. 

  • First Solar (FSLR -4.06%) completed 18 MW of solar farms in Thailand with Prime Road Group. This is a module supply agreement from First Solar and is an example of the strategy it's moving to in the long term. Look for more projects in which the company supplies equipment but a third party does construction and owns the project. 
  • Speaking of supply agreements, First Solar signed a 140 MW module supply agreement in Australia this week. The project will begin construction in April, so this will be a source of revenue for First Solar this year. 
  • Canadian Solar (CSIQ -6.21%) sold three utility-scale solar projects totaling 59.8 MW to Fengate Real Asset Investments this week for $195.3 million. This helps monetize assets on the balance sheet, reducing risk for the business in 2017. 

That's all for this week in solar. Earnings season in the industry starts next week, so we'll be able to see how strategies and trends are playing out in what's sure to be an exciting 2017. 

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