This Week in Solar

Solar manufacturers are quickly crunching the numbers after the third quarter ended a few weeks ago, and in a couple of weeks we'll get a good feel for how bad the quarter really was. If the stock market was any indication, it was a disaster, but falling polysilicon prices and more certainty in major markets should help some manufacturers.

In the meantime, solar manufacturers broke another record, introduced an innovative new product, and announced more manufacturing in the U.S. of A. Here are some of the highlights this week.

Just another broken record
Suntech Power (NYS: STP) , the world's largest producer of solar modules, announced this week that it has installed more than 5 GW of solar panels since the company started a decade ago.

I've been critical of Suntech's seeming expansion for the sake of expansion and, given the oversupply of modules in the industry, think this could be the company's Achilles' heel. Being the biggest is great, but when your margins are shrinking and your debt is growing, there needs to be a rethinking of that strategy.

Integrating modules
The integration of solar panels and inverters is a natural next step that most manufacturers will likely take, and this week Canadian Solar (NAS: CSIQ) announced it is launching a product that would do just that. The Intelligrated Power module includes the inverter, which should greatly simplify system design and installation.

A commercial product called CommercialAC will begin the series, but eventually Canadian Solar will offer a similar product for all markets.

I fully expect this trend to continue as manufacturers try to figure out how to cut balance-of-system costs along with their own manufacturing costs.

More domestic solar manufacturing
Solar manufacturers, particularly those with plants in the U.S., have caught a lot of flack in the Solyndra fallout, but two of the largest manufacturers are building giant plants without any (federal) government backing. First Solar's (NAS: FSLR) Arizona plant is under construction and this week General Electric (NYS: GE) announced it would build a 400 MW thin-film solar plant in Aurora, Colorado.

The 13% efficient panels are superior to First Solar's current modules but the facility won't start production until 2013.

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of First Solar. 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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