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This Week's Solar Industry Recap

By Travis Hoium – Mar 23, 2014 at 10:30AM

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First Solar gives earnings guidance, SolarCity reports earnings, and other news and notes from around the solar industry this week.

We're learning more and more about the progress happening in the solar industry. This week, we got a few more earnings reports and some guidance into what companies are expecting in the future. Here's a recap of the biggest news in solar.

Earnings and First Solar's guidance
First Solar (FSLR 0.43%) was the biggest newsmaker this week when it met with investors to give guidance and a technology roadmap for the future. I took a detailed look at the presentations here, but there are a few takeaways for the whole industry.

Large utility-scale projects like this one are currently First Solar's bread and butter. Image courtesy of First Solar.

First, First Solar doesn't see the large projects it's relied on recently to continue. Instead, utility scale projects less than 100 MW and commercial installations on large rooftops will be more prevalent because they're easier to fit close to demand. The changing trend is one reason First Solar is trying to improve the efficiency of its panels to compete in distributed energy.  

SolarCity (SCTY.DL), a leader in rooftop installations, finally reported its full fourth-quarter earnings. It still expects to grow extremely quickly in 2014, but the question now is how much of its sales mix will be leases versus cash sales. Last quarter, cash sales were higher than expected, and the trend will continue in Q1. SolarCity has pushed solar leases to grow its business but as competitors offer competitive prices for cash or loan sales it may not generate nearly $2 per watt in retained value in leases. Watch the mix of projects in the future to see if SolarCity can live up to its lofty valuation.

Residential solar installations by SolarCity. Image courtesy of SolarCity.

The other earnings report was from Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE), which reported sales of $613.0 million but lost $128.2 million in the quarter. Yingli is seeing strong demand for panels, but it's not generating the margins needed to overcome $2.4 billion in debt. If Yingli can't improve its balance sheet enough to be able to invest in the next generation of equipment it risks failure, so look to see if margins improve enough to make a profit as we move through 2014.

News and notes
Here are a few of the items from the industry that didn't make headlines.

  • First Solar broke ground on the 250 MW Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project this week. Located just north of Las Vegas, the project will be one of the largest in the world when completed and provide enough power for 93,000 homes.  
  • In Jordan, First Solar secured a 20-year power purchase agreement for a 52 MW solar project, which will be the country's largest. This is just another example of how countries outside of traditional powerhouses like Germany and the U.S. are growing their solar presence.  
  • This week, THiNKnrg announced the lowest price power purchase agreement on record with Palo Alto's municipal utility, selling power for just 4 cents per kW-hr. That compares to electricity costs of about 12 cents per kW-hr nationwide, showing just how cheap solar has become. The 398 kW project isn't large but it's a new benchmark for the solar industry in the future.

Check back to next week for more solar coverage and analysis of how you can make money in this fast changing industry.

Travis Hoium has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of SolarCity. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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