This Week's Solar Recap


It was a terrible week for solar stocks, mainly because the entire market was down. The moves are a side effect of investing in a volatile industry like solar, and when the market goes down, solar stocks usually go down even more.

FSLR Total Return Price Chart
FSLR Total Return Price Chart

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As for news from the industry, there were mixed reports. Europe backed down from a solar standard, but word from China shows an incredible amount of work happening at the end of 2013. Here are the highlights from the week.

Europe backs from solar standard
The European Commission backed down from a renewable-energy target for each nation in favor of a goal of getting 20% of its energy from renewables in 2020 and 27% by 2030. Electricity costs in Europe have risen in part because of renewable energy incentives for wind and solar, and with the region still struggling to emerge from a recession, the thought is that strict standards would have been too onerous.

There was a time when Europe's cutting subsidies for solar would have a massive effect on the industry, but today the impact will be muted. Costs have fallen so far that economics will drive installations, not just subsidies and renewable standards. There might be a small impact for solar module manufacturers such as Trina Solar and Canadian Solar , which still sell a significant amount of panels there, but emerging markets such as China will more than make up for any lost sales in Europe.

First Solar was another stock that was hit hard by the news from Europe, but like Chinese manufacturers the impact will be muted. First Solar was once highly reliant on Europe for demand, but it's moved most of its developments to the U.S., South America, and other more sustainable markets.

China's massive solar growth
Speaking of China, we're now getting early estimates as to how much solar China installed last year, and the numbers are huge. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that 12 GW were installed in 2013, and China's Renewable Energy Industries estimates 9.5 GW to 10.7 GW. In China it's very difficult to track installations, and there's also a big difference between installed projects and connections to the grid, so there will be discrepancies in every estimate you see.

What we do know is that China installed more solar last year than any country ever has. Germany used to hold the record at 8 GW in 2010.

Amazingly, Q4 brought a vast majority of installations in China. GTM Research estimated that as of October, only 3.6 GW were connected to the grid, so if early estimates are true, we're talking about 6-8 GW of solar installed in Q4 alone. That'll be absolutely huge for companies such as Trina Solar and JinkoSolar, which are both selling panels and building projects in China.

News and notes
Here are a few more notable developments from around the industry.

  • First Solar began construction on the 22 MW Barilla Solar Project in Texas this week. This is notable because it's a fairly large solar project in a state known for oil and gas production. Texas has tremendous solar resources and is high potential for the industry so look for more projects there in the future.

  • Canadian Solar announced that it will supply 10 MW of modules to Silvercreek Partners for a project in Ontario.

  • JA Solar announced a joint venture with Powerway PV to build a solar manufacturing facility in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Annual production is expected to be 150 MW, with an option to expand to 600 MW if the region grows. South Africa is another high potential market for the solar industry, and JA Solar is definitely trying to grab a piece of that pie.

Those are the highlights from the solar industry this week. Check back to throughout the week for more on what's happening in the industry and how it affects your investments.

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