It's been a very good year for the solar industry. Some stocks have doubled, tripled, quadrupled, quintupled, or more this year alone. So, with third-quarter earnings season winding down, it seems like a good time to sift through the reports and see what we can find that may have gone unnoticed.
Go south young man
South Africa is rapidly trying to catch up in incorporating solar-generated electricity into its grid. This week marked the first time that a utility-scale solar farm has begun generating power. The 75 MW Kalkbult project will supply electricity to approximately 33,000 homes a year. Operations also began at the 50-MW Droogfontein solar project in Northern Cape and the 7-MW Rustmo 1 solar plant near Rustenberg this week.
One of the solar companies operating in South Africa is SunEdison (OTC:SUNEQ), which recently secured $185 million in debt funding for the 60-MW Boshof Solar Park Project. Once complete, SunEdison will retain 51% ownership of the facility, which will generate electricity under a 20-year power purchase agreement with national power utility Eskom and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Additionally, SunEdison has begun construction on two other utility-scale projects in the Limpopo province, Soutpan, and Witkop, which together total 58 MW of contracted capacity.
Another player in South Africa is SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR). SunPower has been chosen to construct an 86-MW farm in Prieska located in the Northern Cape province. The project is supposed to be completed by mid-2015.
Looking back, management partially attributes the 13% gain in its non-generally accepted accounting principles revenue of $121 million to the construction of two power-plant projects in South Africa.
Having just reported earnings for the third quarter, Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) crushed expectations; however, any references to projects in Africa were missing from the report. Winning a contract in January to supply 30 MW of PV modules to Gestamp Solar for two projects in South Africa, Trina was supposed to deliver the modules in the third quarter, but there is no evidence that it met the delivery date.
There were no references to specific deals in Africa during the conference call; however, management did note that they have seen "increasing interest and demand in South Africa."
Not keeping its eggs in one South African basket
Perhaps the most diversified solar play in the African markets is JinkoSolar (NYSE:JKS). Having contracts to deliver 300 MW of PV modules to South Africa (approximately 30% of market share), management said they "expect to sign another 90 MW in the near future." JinkoSolar had a deal for 274 MW with Acciona. About 17% of its total module shipments for the third quarter were to South Africa.
During the earnings call, management also touted JinkoSolar's accomplishments in Namibia, where it has made sales for the first time -- shipments totaled 519 megawatts: 19 megawatts in wafers, 11 megawatts in cells, and 489 megawatts in modules.
Further demonstrating its commitment to seeking value in Africa, Arturo Herrero, chief strategy officer, explained that JinkoSolar is "already having very high-level meetings with government in Uganda as you mentioned, also in Kenya and in other African countries where we are seeing some huge potential for the...future."
The mention of Uganda may be in reference to a recent agreement between the Ugandan government and Taiwanese-U.S. partnership, Ergon Solair, for the development of four 125-MW power plants that will be built for the Ugandan Development.
Also of note is the reference to Kenya. According to its website, Ergon Solair "signed a cooperation memorandum with the East African Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture to jointly promote the development of 2,000 MWS of PV in East Africa."
Kenya is a member of the EACCIA, and although JinkoSolar's management did not make specific mention of the deal between Ergon Solair and the EACCIA, it certainly seems that JinkoSolar is on the cusp of inking some impressive deals.
The Foolish takeaway
If it seems like a stretch to so highly value Africa as an important market for the solar industry, consider this: Cameroon, which produces 933 MW of power annually, is looking to invest about $2.2 billion in a utility-scale solar plant that will generate 500 MW -- nearly doubling the entire country's annual production. This is part of a larger attempt to generate 3,000 MW of renewable energy by 2020.
With earnings season winding down, it's interesting to compare the numbers as well as the comments from various companies. Although South Africa seems to be the focus of many companies, I find it more interesting that the rest of Africa seems to be neglected. Except for JinkoSolar, that is. I believe that Jinko Solar will be one of the long-term winners among PV manufacturers, and its attention not only to South Africa but the rest of the continent as well validates that opinion.
It appears to me that most African countries are starting to recognize the value in converting their energy infrastructure to solar and away from fossil fuels, but time will tell if this is, in fact, a worthwhile endeavor. In the meantime, I'll be watching to see how JinkoSolar proceeds in gaining market share in Africa and if Trina, SunPower, and SunEdison make any substantial attempts to issue a challenge.