We've already seen the soft results from shops like SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWRA) (NASDAQ:SPWRB) and Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR) this earnings season. Now it's time for solar equipment suppliers to tell their side of the story.

First up is Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT), which branched out from semiconductors and LCD displays to the solar PV market back in 2006. Applied Materials, a veteran in the capital equipment space, identified the early 2009 business environment as "reflecting a level of demand the company has not experienced for more than a decade." So that means things have been even worse than during the tech wreck. Not an easy feat.

In a sense, the solar business (falling within the company's energy and environmental solutions segment) was something of a bright spot in Applied Materials' rough fiscal second-quarter report. Segment sales more than quadrupled from last year, and rose 22% sequentially. The other three segments experienced declines, with the core semiconductor business dropping roughly 80% from last year's sales levels. That's just staggering.

The bad news is that new solar orders dropped off sharply, registering a 56% plunge from last quarter. As with First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) and Energy Conversion Devices (NASDAQ:ENER), credit just isn't flowing in this space.

The difference between Applied Materials and the thin-film module slingers is that the latter companies are stepping in to help certain customers finance their projects. Applied refuses to do this, with management stating that it sees little added value in "playing the role of a bank."

Meanwhile, anyone banking on sunny results from GT Solar (NASDAQ:SOLR) was sorely disappointed yesterday afternoon. The polysilicon and photovoltaic equipment specialist registered a sales slide of roughly 33% compared to last quarter, and per-share earnings missed analyst estimates by a wide margin. GT's guidance for its upcoming fiscal year is pretty grim as well.

As with Applied Materials, GT saw its backlog dip sequentially, but the percentage decline was only half as steep. I think that pretty much sums up the state of the solar capital equipment business: It's bad, but less bad than what's going on in semiconductors and other manufacturing businesses.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy knows that sometimes you're the windshield, and sometimes you're the bug.