This Week in Solar

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The solar industry seems to have settled down a bit now that we've gotten a feel for how weak sales were in the third quarter. The weakness likely will continue and cause continued fallout for manufacturers, but there are positive things going on in the industry as we speak.

One manufacturer doesn't disappoint
Almost everyone has lowered expectations for the third quarter or the rest of 2011 in recent weeks. First Solar (NAS: FSLR) and SunPower (NAS: SPWRA) did after announcing weaker than expected results. And recently Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) , Yingli Green Energy (NYS: YGE) , and ReneSola (NYS: SOL) all lowered guidance.

But Suntech Power (NYS: STP) bucked the trend this week when it said revenue would be in line with previous estimates and gross margins would be around 13%, at the high end of its guidance range.

I'm not sure yet if it was better management of expectations or stronger sales than competitors, but Suntech appears to be catching up to its Chinese competitors.

A match made in heaven, cars and solar
Electric cars and solar power are kind of a natural match and this week SunPower announced it was working with Nissan to help educate Leaf owners about the benefits of solar.

This is a perfect target market for SunPower because Leaf owners are more likely to have the means and desire to install green technologies than the average car buyer.

Survey says
The Solar Energy Industries Association recently surveyed Americans about their thoughts on solar power, federal incentives, and solar manufacturing. Here are some of the points that I thought were interesting.

  • When asked what energy source they would provide financial support to 39% said solar, 21% said natural gas, 12% wind, with nuclear and coal bringing up the rear.
  • Nine out of 10 Americans said it was either "extremely important" or "somewhat important" to develop the use of solar power.
  • When asked if they would be more likely to buy a product produced using solar energy, 51% of people said yes.
  • And the shocker to this Fool is that 82% of people said they were "extremely likely" or "somewhat likely to support federal investments in solar.

Surveys like this should be taken with a grain of salt because of many factors, but I was quite surprised to see such support for solar among responders. Now if we can educate politicians and consumers on how much solar really costs, then manufacturers may be in a stronger position than they are today.

Keep up on everything solar by adding these stocks to My Watchlist.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of First Solar and SunPower. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.The Motley Fool owns shares of First Solar. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of First Solar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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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