This Week in Solar

It's been a wild week for solar, as usual, and there's a lot to get into so let's get right to it.

News from across the pond
Intersolar Europe is taking place this week and that means new product announcements from some of the biggest players in solar. Here are a few of the highlights.

  • LDK Solar (NYS: LDK) introduced new Professional Series and Value Series PV modules. The Professional Series comes with a 25-year linear power warranty that guarantees 80.2% power output after 25 years. The Value Series has a four-step reduction in the warranty, ending at the same 80.2% guarantee after 25 years. Considering I've called LDK Solar the most likely to fail I'm not sure how good a 25-year warranty is from them.

  • Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) announced improved efficiency from its second-generation Honey cell. The Honey Ultra module generated 284.7 watts peak power when tested in May, higher than 265 watts peak power from the first-generation module.

  • Trina also is trying to lower balance of system costs and monitoring accuracy with Trinasmart. The new power optimizer and monitoring solution will be built into module junction boxes and allows monitoring in real time.

  • Q-Cells, the European solar manufacturer that is in insolvency, is showing off seven new products at Intersolar Europe. They're based around a high-efficiency cell that will allow panels to reach a record 18.5% efficiency. That's better than any Chinese module I've seen and is at least within shouting distance of SunPower's (NAS: SPWR) record efficiency cells that exceed 20% efficiency.

The market moves quickly and manufacturers need to innovate to stay alive. I think what Trina Solar is doing and the developments at Q-Cells are positive for the industry and will continue to push others to step up their game.

Solar and storage working together
Earlier this week I highlighted the importance of energy storage to the future of solar. Well, Trina Solar is trying to bring small-scale energy storage to solar through a partnership with German company E3/DC. The two companies will collaborate "to develop next generation energy storage solutions for homes and small businesses." This is the first direct collaboration between solar and energy storage that I can think of (correct me if there are others) and seems to be a natural fit to help smooth out energy production.

Sticking to the game plan
First Solar (NAS: FSLR) shot off like a rocket this week on news of higher demand in Europe, but it wasn't the only positive development for the company. The solar cost leader made progress on its transition to building more of its own solar plants in sustainable markets when it announced two utility-scale projects in Australia that will total 159 MW.

First Solar will design and build the projects and will also be responsible for maintenance for the first five years of operations.

Betting on your own survival
JA Solar (NAS: JASO) isn't the best-positioned Chinese solar manufacturer, but it does have one of the better balance sheets in the industry. It is putting that balance sheet to work again by authorizing a $100 million share repurchase program. Considering the company's $206 million market cap, that's a big buyback, but the bigger question is whether the company can survive. The market got excited about the news for about a minute, but it doesn't look like there's a lot of faith in this manufacturer right now. I wouldn't bet on this solar stock, buyback or not, but it's an interesting move by the Chinese company.

A great read for anyone in solar
If you're interested in learning more about solar than I can provide here, check out the U.S. Solar Market Insight report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. The executive summary is free (found here) and provides a nine-page overview of the U.S. solar market. Here are a few highlights:

  • U.S. PV installations rose 85% y/y to 506.2 MW in the first quarter, driven by (of all places) New Jersey's 174 MW of new solar.

  • The blended cost of solar modules fell 47% over the past year to $0.94 per watt. I challenge you to find another energy source that had that kind of cost reduction in one year!

  • The national capacity-weighted average price to install solar fell 17.2% to $4.44 per watt over the past year. Residential costs averaged $5.89 per watt, non-residential was $4.63 per watt, and utility scale projects cost on average $2.90 per watt in the first quarter.

That's all for this week in solar.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorTravis Hoiumowns shares of SunPower in a personal and a managed account. You can follow Travis on Twitter at@FlushDrawFool, check out hispersonal stock holdingsor follow his CAPS picks atTMFFlushDraw.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of First Solar. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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