As beach-volleyball players serve, dig and spike at the Olympic Games in Beijing next year, they will be relying on solar power to keep their eyes on the ball.
That's because the court will be lit with 11 kilowatts of solar power capacity from ET Solar, a Chinese solar company based in Nanjing, the Jiangsu Province capital.
Linhui Sui, chief technology officer for the ET Solar Group, said Monday the company has completed the beach-volleyball project and has more Olympic Games projects in the works.
"We are very proud to let other people know that even the Chinese government and the Olympic Games committee is committed to solar and to going green," he said.
The news comes amid speculation that the company might be among the next Chinese solar firms to go public.
An ET Solar source told Greentech Media the company is planning its initial public offering. And the company Web site includes a tab with "Investor Center" on the top, although nothing happens when visitors click on the tab.
But Sui said it's too early to discuss ET Solar's IPO plans.
"Right now, we're just thinking about it," he said. "No specific measures have been taken at this moment - it's just very preliminary thinking. We have no timeline at all at the moment. We still have a long way to go."
The Kitchen Sink
ET Solar makes silicon ingots and wafers, as well as modules, trackers and systems.
In June, the company expanded production from 25 megawatts to 80 megawatts per year and announced it planned to reach 200 megawatts of annual capacity in 2008.
Rona Fried, editor of Progressive Investor, said while it's difficult to know how the markets will react to any company, she suspects an ET Solar offering probably wouldn't cause much excitement in the industry right now.
"In general, I think it'll be another 'me-too' Chinese solar company at this point," she said, adding that the reception could change if ET Solar offers something new before any offering.
While he couldn't speak about ET Solar specifically, Jesse Pichel, a vice president and senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, said a number of Chinese solar companies have IPOs on the horizon.
Chinese solar firms have the advantage of lower costs, but also have had some trouble getting good long-term deals for solar-grade silicon, called polysilicon (see Could China Steal the Solar Throne?)
"The Chinese are the newest on the market, so they are the least well-positioned in terms of [polysilicon,]" he said. "By and large, the Germans and the incumbents got most of the poly."
China Sunergy (Nasdaq: CSUN) is one example. The company blamed the silicon shortage for its second-quarter losses in August, reporting that the cost of making its cells more than doubled from the previous year. China Sunergy shares, which were offered at $11 per share and closed at $16.56 on its stock-market debut, are now trading for $6.07.
"To go public and get a decent valuation, investors are clued into the [polysilicon] shortage and want to see transparent polysilicon deals," Pichel said. "Other companies that went public with apparently enough poly have suffered, so the bar is really raised now for any new IPO to really prove its poly supply."
Otherwise, he said, companies will have to go public with lower margin expectations in anticipation of having to buy polysilicon at high spot prices.
ET Solar hasn't announced any silicon deals this year, but it did announce in June that it began producing silicon ingots and could get ingots of high quality "at any time."
Lighting the Rings
In any case, the company apparently has enough silicon to supply the Olympics with solar power.
The 2008 games won't be the first to features solar power. RWE Schott Solar provided panels for a 33-kilowatt solar roof at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens.
But, according to Xinhua, the Chinese government's news agency, the country plans to outfit the Olympic village with enough solar power to light 80 to 90 percent of its street lights and enough solar water heating to warm 90 percent of the hot water used.
While 11 kilowatts isn't much, Fried said ET Solar's project is an important gesture.
"The more gestures being put out there, like the Olympics, the more the average person will be getting exposed," she said. "People need to see solar in average settings to see that it will be everywhere. Of course, the fact is that Beijing is just so polluted it is having to close down factories for the Olympics, so compared to that, [the solar project] is just a gesture."