This Week in Solar
Solar stocks have had another bad week along with the rest of the market. Investors and analysts are trying to figure out how new solar tariffs on Chinese solar cells will affect the industry, and the falling price of oil has naturally been a downer for solar as well. On the earnings side, Yingli Green Energy (NYS: YGE) reported a decent earnings report earlier this week, continuing the trend of top-tier module suppliers that are posting steady margins but a loss nonetheless.
Here are a few other notable events that happened in solar this week.
More trouble at First Solar
As if the past year hasn't been bad enough for First Solar, now the company is laying off half of its workforce at Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One. The 230 MW project sold to Exelon (NYS: EXC) has had multiple battles with the county, and the latest squabble is over electrical connections for the 3.7 million panels.
The current problem didn't cause much alarm when it first came out, but after furloughing 120 out of 240 workers and halting work for six weeks, it's become a major problem. At every turn, First Solar seems to be upsetting someone with these developments.
The big problem with this is that First Solar has now hitched its wagon to big projects like this, largely abandoning the rooftop market that competitors like SunPower (NAS: SPWR) are trying to exploit. If it can't get these projects right, the market will lose even more confidence in its plans for the future.
Solar plants in India
Azure Power, an Indian renewable-energy developer, was awarded $70.4 million in financing from the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. to expand its solar developments. A 5 MW plant was completed in December, and this money will go toward a 40 MW project that should be completed early next year.
This is just one of the projects going on in India, where officials are hoping to install 20 GW of solar in the next 10 years. This is a huge emerging solar market and should provide strong demand for years to come.
Chinese tariff retaliation unlikely
Nearly every major company in the solar industry has weighed in on the anti-dumping tariffs against Chinese companies, and the consensus is that they're not helping the industry or most of its major players. JA Solar followed statements from Trina Solar, Suntech Power, and others this week expressing their disappointment.
I talked with GT Advanced Technologies (NAS: GTAT) CEO Tom Gutierrez yesterday, and he agreed with the industry consensus that the move is bad for solar. But when it comes to retaliatory tariffs from the Chinese, he thought the chances were slim. China imports a lot of polysilicon, a raw material for solar modules, from the U.S., and any tariffs placed on these products would make modules more expensive for the end user. It would be counterproductive for China to impose import tariffs of its own at this time.
It's an interesting take that has a lot of credence. In the end, the effect of the tariff may be nil on almost everyone in the industry. Chinese manufacturers have already said there are ways around it, from tolling in Taiwan to manufacturing in Mexico. I feared that U.S. suppliers might feel a pinch if China struck back, but logically it wouldn't make a lot of sense for them to do.
This will be an important development to keep an eye on, but from everyone I've talked to tariffs aren't helping the industry at all right now. I still hope cooler heads prevail and politicians on both sides can call some sort of truce. Given the current climate, however, I don't think that's likely.
Interested in reading more about solar stocks? Add your favorites to My Watchlist, and My Watchlist will find all of our Foolish analysis on each stock. Then sign up for My Fool Daily and our analysis will come straight to your inbox every day.
At the time this article was published Fool contributorTravis Hoiumowns shares of SunPower in managed and personal accounts. You can follow Travis on Twitter at@FlushDrawFool, check out hispersonal stock holdings, or follow his CAPS picks atTMFFlushDraw.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of First Solar and Exelon.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a write covered straddle position in Exelon. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.