Despite the recent financial downturn for many solar companies, worldwide capacity will continue to expand.
SunPower today announced it will open a module manufacturing facility in Mexicali, Mexico in a 320,000-square foot building that already exists. The facility will produce regular solar modules as well as solar roof tiles.
It's not a great week for solar. Companies are being forced to sell more solar panels at lower prices to achieve the same revenue levels seen in earlier quarters. Profitless prosperity: it's like running to stay in place. Late last month, SunPower said that its gross margin would be lower and its net losses would be higher for the second quarter than anticipated because of declining prices in the market. (Earnings come out August 9.) Meanwhile, arch rival First Solar yesterday reported lower-than-expected financial results and lowered guidance for the year, the result of pricing pressure.
Nonetheless, shipments are expected to continue to increase in the coming years. Thus, to stay in the game, companies will have to invest in new capacity regardless of the pricing situation. When the ultimate shakeout occurs, the survivors will finally reap the benefit of a large, established global market: that formula worked in the IT space. Total, the oil and gas giant that bought a majority stake in SunPower earlier this year, will likely make it easier for SunPower to get access to comparatively inexpensive capital.
--The clean economy employs 2.7 million people, says the Brookings Institute. It is also export-intensive. "Seven of the 21 states with at least 50,000 clean economy jobs are in the South. Among all the states, California has the highest number of clean jobs, but Alaska and Oregon have the most per worker," the report states. You can get a lot more facts from the report here.
--ARC Energy, a New Hampshire-based company that makes equipment for producing the sapphire substrates required by LED manufacturers, says it signed contracts with two Asian manufacturers worth $96.9 million. LED manufacturers are in a similar situation to solar companies right now: record sales, declining prices, and pressure to expand capacity. Samsung has been investing heavily in manufacturing equipment. To keep up with orders, ARC will expand its own factory capacity by 30,000 square feet.
Semiconductor equipment vendors typically get acquired before they IPO, so it wouldn't be surprising in the next few years if Applied Materials, which is putting more emphasis on lighting, or a competitor buys ARC.
--Soltas Energy formally launched today. Founded by Andrew Barron Worden at Barron Partners, the company is buying majority stakes -- typically around 60 percent -- in prominent commercial solar installers in select states. It already has lined up partners in Tennessee, Connecticut and New Jersey, and the future might bring partners in Nevada, California, Arizona and/or New Mexico. (See earlier story from Intersolar.)
Once under the Soltas umbrella, these installers then begin to seek out commercial rooftop opportunities, erect them and then sell the power back to the building owner or some other party under a power purchase agreement. By 2016, the company wants to control a gigawatt.
Ideally, the company will be able to leverage established local relationships while taking advantage of discounts with panel makers and others signed by the central office. If you are a local installer, it might be worthwhile to check it out. Worden is also quite an engaging character. He and his brother (the founder of inverter maker Solectria) paid their way through Harvard and MIT with funds earned from their high school landscaping business.
--Finally, for you startups seeking funds, try Inerjys in Canada. The firm, new to us, functions almost like a combination of a VC firm and a power provider. It invests in green technology companies, and then incorporates the technologies into firm-funded facilities. Ideally, potential customers and, later, investors will have real-world results they can examine.