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Solar shares rebounded along with the overall financial markets Monday as news of U.S. and European rescue plans took hold.

During late-day trading, First Solar shares (NSDQ: FSLR) jumped $22.45, or 19.1 percent, to $139.90 per share; SunPower Corp.'s (NSDQ: SPWRA) stock shot up $7.47, or 17.37 percent, to $50.48; LDK Solar's (NYSE: LDK) stock rose $1.65, or 8.04 percent to $22.20 per share; and Evergreen Solar's (NSDQ: ESLR) increased 58 cents, or 16.86 percent, to $4.03.

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrials gained 936 points – breaking a record for a one-day gain – and the S&P 500, Nasdaq and other indices also jumped.

It's welcome news after the gut-wrenching plunges of last week, and industry insiders say it bodes well for the mood at the nearly sold out Solar Power International conference, which kicks off in San Diego this week.

The event, which organizers Monday forecast would attract more than 20,000 attendees from at least 70 countries, begins Monday evening and ends Thursday.

News has been trickling out in advance of the conference (see Solar Roundup: First Look at Solar Power International). Here is a roundup of more news announced Monday, which could help the solar industry get a handle on how these turbulent times might play out.

Signet Starts Thin-film Production
Startup Signet Solar announced Monday it has officially begun producing thin-film solar panels at a rate of 20 megawatts per year at its factory in Mochau, Germany.

The company, which uses manufacturing equipment from Applied Materials (NSDQ: AMAT), told Greentech Media in September that it would begin commercial production of its amorphous-silicon films annually by the end of the month (see Signet to Start Thin-Film Solar Production).

The company didn't say why it was delayed, although it says it has just received certification from a German agency, however a spokesperson said the company began full production Monday. 

The move makes Signet the first of Applied Materials' customers to reach commercial production with the semiconductor-equipment manufacturer's thin-film solar tools. Signet also plans to increase its capacity at the German plant to about 130 megawatts by the end of 2009.

Advent Signs $350M Contract With Deutsche Solar
Advent Solar Inc. said Monday that it has signed a $350 million contract to buy silicon wafers from Deutsche Solar, a subsidiary of SolarWorld AG. Deutsche Solar will provide its Solsix wafers to Advent through 2018, the companies reported.

Albuquerque, N.M.-based Advent plans to use Deutsche Solar's wafers to begin making products based on its Ventura Solar Technology, a design and manufacturing process that the company says will increase its solar-cell and -panel efficiencies and cut manufacturing costs (see Solar Industry Convenes in Spain, Makes News).

The company, founded in 2002, makes cells based on technology licensed from Sandia National Laboratory that the company claims improves the efficiency of its cells.

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Instead of the usual silver grid lines – visible from the tops of panels – used to conduct electricity from the cells, the technology uses back and side contacts, according to the Advent. Removing the lines increases the amount of surface area that can capture sunlight and turn it into electricity, boosting the efficiency, the company says.

Advent also says its manufacturing method reduces electrical resistance between cells, thus improving performance and allowing for the use of thinner silicon wafers, which cuts materials costs.

Advent raised just under $39 million through 2005 and in early 2007 shipped the first products from its 25-megawatt manufacturing facility. It raised another $80 million in June 2007.

Advent last month said it had agreed to sell as much as 250 megawatts of its panels in Europe through 2013 through companies including Italy's Enerpoint, Germany's MHH Solartechnik and Netherlands-based SunConnex.

Advent declined to disclose efficiency or cost figures.

Neo Solar Expands Business With Solarday
Speaking of supply agreements, Taiwanese solar cell maker Neo Solar Power and Italian solar-panel maker Solarday said Monday that they have signed a five-year, $210 million sales contract.

The new contract adds to an existing $110 million contract that took effect in 2008, bringing the total amount of business between the two companies to $320 million.

In addition to the Solarday deal, Neo Solar in June signed a five-year, $500 million contract with Canadian Solar Inc. (Nasdaq: CSIQ).

On its supply side, Neo Solar in January agreed to a 10-year contract to buy about 500 megawatts of silicon wafers from China's LDK Solar (see LDK Rises as Solar Shares Fall). In September, Neo Solar signed a $442 million contract to buy silicon wafers from REC through 2015, as well as a $534 million contract to buy wafers from WaferWorks Corp. through 2016.

Neo Solar, founded in 2005, is also looking into the thin-film business. It said in August that it had formed a "thin-film task force" aimed at starting production of thin-film solar cells by the second half of 2009.

REC to Release New Solar Panels
Last week, Germany's Schott Solar announced it would unveil a new solar panel at the Solar Power conference this week.

Not to be outdone, Norweigan solar manufacturer Renewable Energy Corp., also known as REC, announced Monday that it was launching its own new-and-improved panels, called the SCM Series Modules, in the United States.

REC Solar, the cell and module-making subsidiary of parent REC Group, made about 135 megawatts of solar cells and about 100 megawatts of solar modules at the end of 2007, with most of its raw material provided by REC Wafer, another subsidiary of REC Group.

Polysilicon for the new SCM Series modules will be made in the United States, with the rest of production in Europe, and will be sold in America through systems installer Mainstream Energy, REC announced. To confuse matters, San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based Mainstream will install the new panels through two companies it has invested in, AEE Solar Inc. and REC Solar Inc. – the latter having no relation to Norway's REC Group.

Solar Testing Facilities Launched
Companies looking to test their solar technologies will have two new testing facilities at their disposal - one in Arizona and one in Colorado.

Tempe, Ariz., will be the home of TUV Rheinland Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory, a private venture between German testing and certification company TUV Rheinland Group and Arizona State University.

TUV Rheinland PTL will replace ASU's current photovoltaic testing lab and five acres of outdoor testing space, and plans to unveil an expanded catalog of technical services over the coming weeks in advance of its November opening, Matthias Heinz, director of technology for TUV Rheinland, said Monday.

In Aurora, Colo., the newly formed Solar Technology Acceleration Center (SolarTAC) is seeking to recruit member companies to join a consortium that includes Abengoa Solar, SunEdison, Xcel Energy, Midwest Research Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and three Colorado universities.

Companies t hat sign up as members will gain access to the new center's 74 acres of testing space to test "near-to-commercialization" solar technologies, said Linda Cook, Midwest Research Institute spokeswoman.

Testing and certification can delay the launch of new products for months, industry insiders have said. The new testing facilities are likely hoping to help speed up the process.