3 Likely Multinational Solar Suitors

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Exactly how the solar industry shakeout will take place is an ever-evolving question. Mergers or partial acquisitions of companies seemed like they were gaining steam when Total (NYS: TOT) and Hanwha bought major stakes in solar manufacturers. But with many companies struggling with crushing debt, the activity has slowed recently and suitors may wait to buy assets on the cheap through bankruptcy or fire sales.

As the solar market continues to grow into a more mature state, it will become more attractive for many companies and I could see a number of large multinational companies making a big move into solar. Here are three that I think could make a move in 2012.

General Electric (NYS: GE)
GE is building its own solar capabilities in thin-film, but if it were able to get into the crystalline silicon module business at an attractive price, I see it as a likely buyer. GE isn't one to fall in love with a single technology, especially in energy, and thin-film has distinct disadvantages going forward.

If GE were able to buy a mid- or upper-tier manufacturer like Canadian Solar or Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) and put significant money into R&D, you could see it take a leap forward in efficiency and competitiveness.

3M (NYS: MMM)
I've argued for years that 3M should get into the solar business, not as a supplier but as a manufacturer of modules. 3M is a master of technology and film; solar is technology and film -- the fit is perfect.

Until now 3M has focused on supplying products to the thin-film market, but with concentrator technology becoming more prevalent, there may be an opening for 3M and some of its high-value films. I wouldn't imagine 3M partnering with anything but a leading manufacturer, so Trina or Yingli Green Energy (NYS: YGE) may be good fits for 3M.

BP (NYS: BP)
This spot could be filled with almost any big oil company, but BP not only needs the PR boost, it has showed the appetite to get into solar. But BP has taken a backseat to rivals who have expanded quickly and has relied on partners like JA Solar (NAS: JASO) to supply product.

BP could take a leading role in this growing field and also has the balance sheet to get into the utility-scale power plant development if it wishes to. I think 2012 will be the year BP stops tiptoeing into solar and makes a splashy move.

Do you think GE, 3M, or BP will make a move by buying solar assets in 2012? Leave your thoughts in our comments section below.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorTravis Hoiumdoes not have a position in any company mentioned. You can follow Travis on Twitter at@FlushDrawFool, check out hispersonal stock holdingsor follow his CAPS picks atTMFFlushDraw.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of 3M and Total. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in 3M. 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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