For weeks there have been rumblings that Germany was going to cut its solar feed-in tariff, justifiably so after the country saw 3 GW of solar hit the market in December alone. What wasn't known was exactly what those cuts would look like.
Yesterday, the new rates were released, and they will take effect on March 9. They are as follows:
Feed-In Tariff Rate
|Under 10 kW||0.195 euro/kWhr|
|10 kW to 1 MW||0.165 euro/kWhr|
|1 MW to 10 MW||0.135 euro/kWhr|
|Over 10 MW||No feed-in tariff rate|
This is a 20% to 30% cut from the previous feed-in tariff rate, in line with rumors, but investors still seemed surprised, as they crushed solar stocks yesterday.
What's interesting to note is how this compares to retail electricity rates. According to Eurostat, Germany paid an average electricity rate of 0.2294 euro per kWhr in 2009. That's higher than the new feed-in tariff rates I've shown above. That means that net metering becomes an economically viable solution for homeowners versus the feed-in tariff.
The question now becomes: How much solar can Germany install without the use of a feed-in tariff?
What this means
What Germany has done is cut the legs out from under the utility-scale and medium-size solar development market. Companies like First Solar
SunPower leads the efficiency pack, but is focusing more heavily on the U.S. residential and commercial market, along with its project development unit, than Germany. It would be reasonable to think that higher-efficiency Chinese manufacturers like Canadian Solar
How much will this hurt?
The question on investors' minds is: How big will the impact be? In 2011, Germany installed 7.5 GW of solar power and that may be slashed in 2012. China, India, and the U.S. will pick up some of the slack, but manufacturers keep building supply and the worldwide market likely won't keep up without a strong Germany. If anything is going to push lower-tier manufacturers into bankruptcy, this could be it.
I would keep an eye on LDK Solar
Foolish bottom line
The news out of Germany yesterday wasn't good for solar stocks, but it may push us closer to consolidation and more failed manufacturers. What the industry could really use right now is lower supply, and that's only going to happen if some companies fail.
I'm not expecting the German market to fall apart, but this will be our first test of how consumers react after grid parity is reached.
The next year will be painful for some companies; that's why I will be sticking with those that have the best modules and strongest balance sheets. That's SunPower in the U.S., which has much of its production tied up in power plant developments, and Trina Solar in China. These two companies should emerge as winners as this solar battle plays out.
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Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of First Solar and SunPower and manages an account that owns shares of SunPower. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.
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