Why I Believe in Thin Film

Analyzing Solar Stocks With False Assumptions Dana Blankenhorn When most people think of solar energy, they see flat panels on a roof. They don't think about thin film. They don't see it. This is one of the many advantages of CIGS  and other thin film solar technologies. So what if its efficiency is half that of a panel? It conforms to the shape of the place where it lays. Thin film can also be productized in ways no panel can. It can be turned into something retailers can sell or bloggers will...

Analyzing Solar Stocks With False Assumptions

Dana Blankenhorn The lessons of technology investing also apply to solar investing. The decision by Evergreen Solar (ESLR) to move to China has some analysts saying "ha-ha" over solar energy. But in fact it reveals a basic fallacy in the way solar power, and solar power stocks, are analyzed by Wall Street. It's a manufacturing assumption. Solar panels are said to be a manufacturing business. So if prices are going down, that's bad. If governments are no longer seeing solar as just good PR, if they're treating it as a real industry that has to make...

Finding the Apple Computer of Solar Power

by Joseph McCabe, PE Have you noticed the corporate pitches that compare their products to iPhones or iPads to try and force the feeling that they are "like Apple"? Bill Ford just pitched the Ford electric car in this manner. If Apple is the gold standard, the question becomes, what solar company is closest to being just like Apple? I think the answer is none, at least not yet. The Apple Model Apple has a design culture that attracts design professionals to their product. They also have a completely vertical integrated product where their case, graphical...

A Solar Penny Stock Worth Watching?

Dana Blankenhorn As a rule "penny stocks," public companies routinely selling for less than $1 a share, and sometimes just a few pennies, make me nervous. While the intent is laudable – to give small investors a chance to bet on long shots just like the boys on Sand Hill Road  – the result has always looked like a rigged casino. Because of its low capitalization and small float it's easy to “pump and dump” a penny stock, boosting its value with some publicity, then selling it short. And if the deal were worthwhile, why isn't the smart...

First Solar Rides the Wall of Worry

Dana Blankenhorn When people first get excited about solar energy, one of the first things they think of doing is to invest in it. And the first place they think to throw their money is thin-film solar manufacturer First Solar Inc. (FSLR) of Tempe, Arizona.  First Solar is what I might call the  “big iron” play in solar. That is, it mainly produces large, flat panels that are installed by utilities and connected to the grid. It's a good business. The company regularly earns 25% on assets, 30% on equity, and it's managed conservatively. So why is it that...

Solar Windows Coming But What Kind?

Dana Blankenhorn One thing any new industry needs to do is beware of its own hype. I still remember, almost 20 years ago now, sitting in on the launch of a tablet PC called Momenta. I was just then finishing a book for New Riders to be called “A Guide to Field Computing,” all about hand-held computers and terminals that could collect, transmit and calculate outside. I had reason to believe. But I didn't believe. Yes, they had big-time backing, big names in the executive suite. Yes, the press release was slick, glossy and over-sized. Yes, the shrimp...

Structural and Electrical BOS Components for Solar PV

by Joseph McCabe, PE When investing in the solar industry always remember the old joke: Question: Do you know how to make a small fortune in solar? Answer: Start with a large one. There are exceptions to this rule, like when PowerLight was purchased by SunPower the PowerLight principles came away with valuable SPWRA stock options. Powerlight was a structural balance of systems (BOS) company. They had unique rooftop and single axis tracking structural technologies for photovoltaics (PV), and used that IP to win jobs with various PV module manufacturers, the lowest priced ones at any given time. ...

Green Chip Stocks’ “Sunless Solar” Tease

Tom Konrad Last week, Stock Gumshoe sleuthed out Jeff Seigel's recent tease of a "$0.62 Company Just Perfected Sunless Solar.”  The company is New Energy Technologies (NENE.OB), which was trading at $1.20 after the close on Friday.  Here's what the Gumshoe has to say about the company: And of course, maybe Siegel’s right, maybe these guys will be to First Solar what IBM was to Smith Corona … I’m just not holding my breath. For more information on the company, which did stage a demonstration of the technology in Tampa last month, you can certainly visit...

Finer System Level Details for the Comparison of Photovoltaic Technologies

by Joseph McCabe, PE In our last article  "Metrics for Thin Film Solar CIGS Company Comparisons," we alluded to finer system level details in the comparison of photovoltaic (PV) technologies and promised this follow up article on the subject. System level details begin with the PV modules themselves. Band gap, temperature corrections  and fill factor are just some of the finer technology details, all slightly related in that they can produce system performance differences when comparing similar PV technologies. Band gap is the quantum-level point where the PV technology absorbs photons. Think of the...

Metrics for Thin Film Solar CIGS Company Comparisons

Joseph McCabe Many people ask me, “which CIGS company is going to emerge as winner in the race towards high efficiency thin film PV’s? To provide an enlightened perspective to the question, some historical perspectives are needed. First Solar (FSLR) has helped the Thin Film PV Industry by proving that respectable solar to electric area efficiencies can be achieved in a low cost manufacturing processes, with respectable performance over time. First Solar’s technology is cadmium telluride (CdTe) on glass. Previously, amorphous silicon was the thin film leader, with the highest commercially available thin film area efficiencies; currently they...

Solar Parking Developer Envision Solar Now Public (OTCBB:EVSI)

Tom Konrad, CFA One of the best things about Solar Photovoltaics (PV) is that they can be installed close to load but need not take up open space.  Now public company Envision specializes on solar shading for parking lots that not only produces power, but also shade where it's needed most. I lived in Tucson, Arizona for two years in the early 2000s.  Like everyone who lives in the desert Southwest for any length of time, I became very aware of what would happen if I left my car in an open parking lot for more than...

Stock Market Advice for Solar Energy Investors

J. Peter Lynch I have been reading your articles for years and always thought your stock market related insight was interesting and helpful for me as an investor. At the current time I am worried about the market and am wondering where you think the market is currently, given the major run up we have had in the past year. I would also be curious about your view on solar stocks and what you see for them. Claude M., France. Claude, great questions.  You are really going to make me think about this one. Sorry...

Solar Headwinds, Part II

Tom Konrad, CFA Prospective investors in solar manufacturers should consider the competitive forces that constrain the industry's long-term profitability. In the first part of this series, I showed how a competitive analysis of the corn ethanol industry in early 2007 illuminated the forces that soon caused ethanol company stock prices to collapse in late 2007.  I also implied that the solar cell manufacturers, including industry leaders such as Sunpower (SPWRA) and First Solar (FSLR) are vulnerable to these forces and may not be able to maintain high returns on capital over the long term. I'm not...

Solar Headwinds, Part I

How Solar PV is like Ethanol Tom Konrad, CFA High levels of competition in the the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry mean that buy-and-hold investors should look elsewhere. In May 2007, I published a competitive analysis of the corn Ethanol industry based on Michael Porter's classic Five Competitive Forces model.  At the time, Ethanol stocks were flying high, but my conclusion was that "the prospective ethanol investor should be very careful about investing in corn ethanol producers at random."  If anything, I understated the case. This chart shows three ethanol stocks that have survived since 2007.  As...

Why Do Green Energy Experts Buy Solar Stocks? 

Tom Konrad CFA Green energy experts accept that solar panels are one of the least cost effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint.  Nevertheless, many buy solar stocks.  They should rethink their investment strategies. I recently spoke on "Stock Selection in the Era of Peak Oil and Climate Change" at the ASPO 2009 International Peak Oil Conference.  Whenever green energy enthusiasts find out that I analyze green energy stocks professionally, they react in one of two ways.  Many want to know my top stock pick in general (New Flyer Industries NFI-UN.TO/NFYIF.PK) or in their favorite sector (see below.)   ...

What Shouldn’t Be in a Green Energy Portfolio

The London Accord took a look at what portfolio theory would suggest as the most effective ways to address Climate Change.  Knowing which technologies don't make the cut is at least as useful as knowing which technologies do. Tom Konrad, Ph.D., CFA I recently looked at a paper from the London Accord which used portfolio theory to recommend the best mixes of technologies to deliver different levels of carbon abatement.  The most useful technologies to achieve the needed levels of carbon abatement were Forestry, Hydropower, Biofuels, Wind, Efficiency, and Geothermal. I suggested stocks that investors might consider to invest in...