The solar space has been a tumultuous one lately, with shares across the sector dropping by double digits one day, only to reverse course and scream higher the next. While shares of LDK Solar (NYSE:LDK) and Germany's Conergy AG have been decimated, the likes of First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) and Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR) have done a lot more rising than setting.

The one that has shone most brightly over the past month, however, is Suntech Power (NYSE:STP), a leading module manufacturer that released third-quarter results yesterday. Let's check out the circuitry here and see if we're looking at a longer-term winner.

At present, no module maker can go toe-to-toe with China's Suntech when it comes to sheer scale. The firm reached 420 megawatts of production capacity at the end of the quarter, and anticipates hitting its one-gigawatt production target by the end of 2008, two full years ahead of schedule. That's a lot of juice.

The capacity ramp, combined with a deluge of demand, helped Suntech surpass its production guidance and sell more than 100MW of modules in the quarter. This catapulted net revenue 137% higher, and net margins of 13.8% brought $53 million down to the bottom line. Best of all, the company reported not only accounting profits, but positive operating cash flow. You might be surprised to hear that this was a first for the company since its IPO, but cash generation has finally caught up with capital expenditures.

I know this issue is so last season, but I'd like to talk about stock options for a minute. Suntech has a pretty Western attitude toward share-based compensation, which amounted to $6.6 million in the quarter. At 10% of non-GAAP operating income, that approaches Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) territory, but Suntech isn't egregious in this regard. That honor goes to SunPower (NYSE:SPWR), which recently dished out the equivalent of half its non-GAAP operating profit in options and restricted stock. SunPower? PerkPower is more like it.

Looking ahead, I see a very bright 2008 for Suntech. The company has already secured 530MW worth of silicon, with a vast majority coming from established suppliers. When an analyst on the conference call put two and two together and asked if the company's projected higher selling prices and lower silicon costs would boost margins, the CEO had the perfect reply: "Can you see our faces smiling?"

Suntech Power is a Rule Breakers newsletter recommendation. It's one of a dozen companies that have doubled since being tapped by the service. You can try the service free for 30 days.


Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.