In a research note last week, Lazard Capital analyst Sanjay Shrestha said he is "even more convinced that the industry will go through consolidation/rationalization in the coming years given massive capacity additions. 

While it’s still uncertain how large the expected buying spree might be, and whether the acquisitions really will outpace the new startups popping up in the solar sector, companies already have begun making key purchases and partnerships.

To name just a few examples, solar-panel maker SunPower bought Italian firm Solar Solutions in December, after buying U.S. solar integrator PowerLight in 2006, and semiconductor company Applied Materials in November announced it would buy Baccini, an Italian company that makes equipment for manufacturing crystalline silicon cells, after buying thin-film equipment manufacturer Applied Films Corp. in 2006.

Solar companies that aren’t tying the knot are joining partnerships. Melbourne, Australia-based Solar Systems said this week it had signed a $290 million partnership deal with Melbourne-based utility TRUenergy to build one of the world’s largest solar-power stations -- a 154-megawatt power plant costing $420 million in northern Victoria, in Australia.

Hoku Materials (NSDQ: HOKU), which already signed a deal to sell solar-panel manufacturer Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP) $678 million of silicon last year, "strengthened" its partnership with an investment. The private placement from Suntech and unnamed institutional investors totaled approximately $25 million.

And Sharp Corp. and Tokyo Electron earlier this month established a joint venture to commercialize plasma-deposition systems for silicon-based thin-film solar. 

Many of these acquisitions and partnerships are aimed at lowering costs (click here to continue to next section).