After a long, dark week of price declines, U.S.-based fuel cell stocks Plug Power (PLUG 12.38%), FuelCell Energy (FCEL 8.20%), and Bloom Energy (BE 6.51%) finally began bouncing back on Friday. As of 12:15 p.m. EST, shares of FuelCell were up a healthy 16.1%, Plug shares had gained 13.5%, and even Bloom Energy tacked on an 8% gain.
It seems the panic is passing.
But whence came this panic in the first place? In a word: competition.
It's been a busy week for fuel cell news, with Plug Power announcing its latest in a series of international joint ventures Tuesday, a 50-50 partnership with Spain's Acciona to try to dominate the production of hydrogen gas for fuel cells in Spain and Portugal. The bigger Plug gets, the fiercer a threat it poses to competitors like FuelCell and Bloom Energy, and that helps to explain why many fuel cell investors were nervous at the start of the week.
Then on Wednesday, a new threat emerged to all of the U.S.-based fuel cell companies, Plug included. Norway, it was announced, would build the world's first hydrogen fuel cell "gigafactory," enlisting Austrian green energy specialist AVL to assist TECO 2030 in building a gigantic factory capable of churning out 1.2 gigawatts' worth of fuel cells annually.
As my fellow Motley Fool and green energy guru Travis Hoium was quick to point out, 1.2 gigawatts is 1,200 megawatts: 30 times the amount of fuel cells that Plug has ever produced on its own.
So was Will Ferrell right in the recent GM TV ad when he complained that Norway is out-EV'ing us?
Perhaps. It's worth pointing out, though, that Norway isn't even expecting to start production at its fuel cell gigafactory until next year, whereas Plug has its fuel cell production well underway already.
Another fact that investors may be cluing into today: Norway's apparent fuel cell champion, TECO 2030, is a small-cap stock with a market capitalization under $200 million (according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence), now attempting to challenge Plug Power with its market capitalization of $27 billion.
So TECO 2030 may be challenging Plug Power and the other U.S. fuel cell companies for global supremacy, but its success is far from assured.