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This Week in Solar

By Toby Shute - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 6:56PM

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The race to grid parity, one week at a time.

Last week, aside from a billion dollar-scale Chinese project getting under way, things were looking pretty gloomy. There's a bit more bad news to share, but this week's roundup ought to be a bit sunnier, on balance.

Take, for instance, Hemlock Semiconductor's hefty expansion. The Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) and Corning (NYSE:GLW)-backed silicon sultan is pumping up its polysilicon production by both expanding and opening a new facility, for a combined investment of over $2 billion. Dow Corning, meanwhile, is moving into monosilane production. Whereas poly is used in standard PV cells, monosilane is a key material in thin-film manufacturing, so the silicon shop is clearly covering its solar bases.

Also plunking down cash this week was Total SA (NYSE:TOT). The French energy giant took a near-20% stake in Konarka for $45 million, thus valuing the thin-film start-up at over $225 million. That's a bigger value than the market's currently assigning to up-and-running producers like China Sunergy (NASDAQ:CSUN) and Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL)! Then again, Konarka's roll-to-roll manufacturing line -- an asset picked up from Polaroid -- may steamroll those crusty crystalline PV players before too long.

While these financial commitments reflect genuine confidence, disturbing news of a Spanish confidence game has also surfaced. With developers eager to get credit for solar projects before some lucrative incentives expired in late September, they employed some creativity in meeting the deadline. One report talks about installers hooking up panels or transformers just long enough to get a confirmed grid connection, and then yanking them and heading to the next installation. Even fake panels may have been used in some cases. The numbers aren't finalized, but Spanish media have quoted a fraudulence rate pushing 40%, based on government inspections to date.

Holy frijoles.

In other news, First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) hit grid parity on a project with Sempra Energy in California. That's according to Pacific Crest analyst Mark Bachman, who was generous enough to share his research note with me. It's a big claim, and one that's hard to evaluate without all of the variables, some of which are proprietary. While I agree with Bachman that investors should look beyond dollars per installed watt and focus on the cost of generating electricity, I find it hard to believe that First Solar is undercutting SunPower's (NASDAQ:SPWRA) system costs by more than 50%. I suggest waiting to break out the bubbly until First Solar confirms such a milestone achievement.

Total SA is an Income Investor selection. If dividends put a spring in your step, check out the latest issue, in which the team unveils their seven must-own stocks. You're welcome to test the waters, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Dow Chemical is a former Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

First Solar, Inc. Stock Quote
First Solar, Inc.
$117.97 (2.95%) $3.38
TotalEnergies Stock Quote
$54.02 (0.54%) $0.29
DuPont de Nemours, Inc. Stock Quote
DuPont de Nemours, Inc.
Corning Incorporated Stock Quote
Corning Incorporated
$37.54 (1.08%) $0.40
China Sunergy Co., Ltd. Stock Quote
China Sunergy Co., Ltd.

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