We've seen a lot of sunny solar reports this season. SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWRA) (NASDAQ:SPWRB) set a positive tone, which has been carried on by the likes of JA Solar (NASDAQ:JASO), Canadian Solar (NASDAQ:CSIQ), and Yingli Green Energy (NYSE:YGE). Strong results, all, but Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) truly stands out from the crowd this quarter.

Trina is just killing it as a cost leader in the manufacture of solar modules. In the third quarter, the Chinese shop achieved gross margins of 28.5%, well ahead of guidance. Here's how some other solar players weighed in:


Gross Margin %



Yingli Green Energy


Canadian Solar


Solarfun Power (NASDAQ:SOLF)


All data from company filings.

Trina took its nonsilicon costs down by 3.5% sequentially, reflecting increased manufacturing efficiencies. Silicon costs plummeted an eye-popping 25% sequentially, as long-term contracts were rejiggered in the face of a persistent upstream glut of the raw material.

Prices are of course coming down at the module level as well, but Trina is so far wringing out enough savings to more than offset these declines.

As far as Trina's strategy for 2010, the thinking here is a bit different than what I outlined in my review of Canadian Solar's quarterly report. Both companies are certainly looking to grab market share. Both probably will. The difference is that Trina looks a lot less willing to compete on price. Rather, the company is focusing on brand name, reputation for quality, and customer support. It appears the company has the goods to make this work.

Asked whether the company was worried about all of the capacity expansion being planned by its publicly traded peers, Trina management pointed to the expansion potential afforded by the failure of uncompetitive suppliers. As we've stepped through this season's earnings reports, it's become clearer to me that the overcapacity situation is not as severe as many gloomy analyses had framed it. Many higher-cost manufacturers are not just temporarily idling production lines. They're down for the count, and that takes a lot of pressure off of the supply side of the equation.

Trina has gained tremendously from the solar shakeout. Its multibagger share price performance this year is reflective of that reality.