Thursday, September 17, 2009

Enter Gigawatts: Solar Power Comes of Age (FSLR; SPWRA; STP)

The Journal's Russell Gold waxes philosophic, juxtaposing the classic coming of age story with the (almost) bleeding edge, at Environmental Capital:
A brief history of solar power.

In the pre-industrial era, solar power was used pretty much exclusively by plants and cold-blooded amphibians. Then came solar panels – expensive and not particularly efficient – but a way to turn the sun into power. And solar power was embraced by off-the-grid hippies.

Then a few years ago, something happened. To be exact: feed-in tariffs happened. And solar power began to grow in Germany and Spain and elsewhere in Europe where government policy created predictable profits. Policy begat interest which begat scale which begat lower prices. This was the first growth phase of solar power.

We are about to enter the “second growth phase of the solar era,” says Vishal Shah, a Barclays analysts in a research note this morning. This phase is driven by utility-scale purchases of solar panels. “We expect the U.S and Chinese solar markets to lead growth during the second growth phase of the solar era, primarily driven by development of large scale solar projects,” he notes.

In short, our little boy is growing up.

Earlier this month, First Solar announced a deal to build a two-gigawatt facility in China. Granted, it will take a decade – but how long will it take to build a new nuclear reactor? (By the way, Barclays raised its stock price target for both First Solar and SunPower today, in part arguing that these companies as well as Suntech Power “appear to be best positioned to lead” in the U.S. and Chinese utility markets.)...MORE