North Coast Solar Stocks

August 27, 2007

Forecast for solar power: Sunny

Filed under: AMAT, ESLR, FSLR, SPWR — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 8:22 am

By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY Mon Aug 27, 8:22

Solar power has long been the Mercedes-Benz of the renewable energy industry: sleek, quiet, low-maintenance. Yet like a Mercedes, solar energy is universally adored but prohibitively expensive for most people. A 4-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system costs about $34,000 without government rebates or tax breaks.

As a result, solar power accounts for well under 1% of U.S. electricity generation. Other alternative energy sources, such as wind, biomass and geothermal, are far more widely deployed.

The outlook for solar, though, is getting much brighter. A few dozen companies say advances in technology will let them halve the price of solar-panel installations in as little as three years. By 2014, solar-system prices will be competitive with conventional electricity when energy savings are figured in, Deutsche Bank (DB) says. And that’s without government incentives.

If that happens, solar panels would become common home and business appliances, says Brandon Owens of Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

Innovations – led by semiconductor firms and a new crop of “thin-film” solar makers – wring more power from sunlight, use less silicon to make panels and make factories more efficient.

Venture-capital firms pumped $264 million into solar companies in 2006, up from $64 million in 2004, research firm Clean Edge says. The start-ups also have benefited from $159 million in U.S. research grants this year largesse from efforts to reduce power plants’ global-warming emissions.

(more…)

August 23, 2007

Applied buys Swiss company HCT for $483M

Filed under: AMAT — Tags: , , — Jason @ 11:42 am

Thursday August 23, 11:42 am ET

Applied Materials Inc. said Thursday it acquired HCT Shaping Systems SA for about $483 million. Santa Clara-based Applied said HCT supplies precision wafering systems for manufacturing crystalline silicon substrates for the solar industry.

Applied said the acquisition expands its portfolio of products that reduce costs of manufacturing photovoltaic cells to make solar energy more competitive with grid electricity.

HCT, based in Switzerland, is privately held.

August 22, 2007

Applied Material’s Solar Machine

Filed under: AMAT, INTC, SPWR — Tags: , , , — Jason @ 2:27 am

by Todd Woody
GreenWombat – Fortune.com

It’s been almost a year since Applied Materials – the Silicon Valley company that is the world’s biggest manufacturer of the machines that make computer chips and flat-screen video displays – announced it was jumping into the booming solar energy business. It was a natural fit – most solar technology is silicon based and the Applied (AMAT) machines that churn out video displays can, with a few modifications, produce thin-film solar panels. And tools used to make the chips in your laptop can be reconfigured to make wafers for solar cells. Applied’s move into the solar market promises to lower the cost of solar electricity. How? By standardizing and improving the solar manufacturing process, much as the company did for the semiconductor industry, allowing companies like Intel (INTC) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to produce ever-cheaper chips that made laptops and mobile phones mass commodities.

So Green Wombat recently headed down the 101 to pay a visit to Charlie Gay, a solar industry veteran who runs Applied’s Solar Business Group, for a Year One update and to take a look at the company’s big metal. An avuncular exec, Gay began his solar career more than three decades ago at Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab. He subsequently joined Arco Solar and worked at its various incarnations and later served as director of the U.S. government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He recently chaired solar-cell maker SunPower’s (SPWR) advisory board.

“Things are growing very rapidly, both for the solar industry as well as for Applied,” says Gay at the company’s Santa Clara campus. In the first quarter of the year the company forecast its solar business would do $200 million in revenue in 2007. By the second quarter, it raised that estimate to $400 million, and last week during the third quarter earnings call, CEO Mike Splinter upped the ante to more than $600 million.

The reason for the optimism is Applied’s growing thin-film solar business. So far this year it has signed contracts to build thin-film production lines for half a dozen solar companies in Europe and India. Unlike traditional solar panels, thin-film manufacturing involves depositing photovoltaic materials on large and slender pieces of glass or flexible material. Though not as efficient at converting photons into electrons as standard solar cells, the promise of thin-film is that will be cheaper to produce. (Unlike thin-film solar startups like Nanosolar, which are developing next-generation technology based on copper indium gallium diselenide, or CIGS, Applied’s clients use an older amorphous silicon-based process.) “What we’ve done is lay out production lines for thin-film solar,” says Gay. “One advantage we bring is integrating the tools with the production process in a solar factory.” The aim is to cut the cost per watt of solar electricity by designing smooth-running and efficient factories.

Over at another Applied building I don a lab coat, booties and safety glasses – not quite the full-on bunny suit – and Teresa Trowbridge, an Applied senior manager in the solar group, takes me on a tour of the massive clean room where Applied builds its equally massive flat-panel manufacturing machines (photo above). Sheets of glass as large as 7 by 8 feet (2.2 by 2.5 meters) are fed into the AKT Gen 8.5 and layers of semiconductors and circuitry are applied. Once the machines are tweaked to handle thicker thin-film glass and a couple of other mechanical changes are made, they can use the same process to produce solar panels.

CIGS thin-film would seem to threaten Applied’s silicon-based thin-film market. But Gay says CIGS thin-film processes still use layers of amorphous silicon – layers that can be deposited by Applied machines. “It grows our market,” he says of efforts by startups like Nanosolar and Miasole. Applied also makes tools that can be used in the production of crystalline silicon wafers for traditional solar panels. The company has not yet done any big wafer deals but Gay hinted that some may be in offing. “There’s a real renaissance of solar,” he says.

August 13, 2007

The Sun Shines Brightly On Clean, Green ETF

Filed under: EMKR, PBW, SPWR, TSL — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 7:00 pm

Monday August 13, 7:00 pm ET
Joanne Von Alroth

It can be easy being green — if you look in the right place. For investors with a piece of PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy Fund PBW, in fact, it’s a breeze. The small-cap growth exchange traded fund tracks the performance of the WilderHill Clean Energy Index, which focuses on clean and renewable energy providers. Founded by former environmental technology researcher Robert Wilder, the two-year-old fund holds 43 stocks with an average market cap of $1.2 billion. It’s the largest of its kind. While it has been a volatile performer over the past year because of its tight focus, it was the best performing ETF last week. The fund’s year-to-date return, as of Monday, was slightly more than 22%.

Outperformer

The fund’s IBD Relative Strength Rating has jumped from 55 in April to 86 as of Monday. This is in spite of the fund’s earnings per share falling 14% this year, from $22.38 in 2006 to $19.29 in 2007. So what’s with the strong performance? The top-10 holdings have taken a slight hit the past couple of days along with the rest of the market.

But analysts note there’s an ever-increasing demand for alternative energy, especially with traditional fuel source prices so high. To a company, every one of this ETF’s top holdings has helped keep a strong wind in this fund’s sails.

Take one of its largest holdings, American Superconductor. The company makes products that improve the cost, efficiency and reliability of electric power systems used in wind farms and ship propulsion. It has posted negative earnings for years, but the company’s burly 99 RS reflects recent new highs and management’s announcement that revenue will increase this year. Another top holding, Emcore, last week announced a record-breaking conversion efficiency for its multi-junction solar cells. Emcore officials also said they are increasing solar-cell production capacity to meet growing demand. The news pushed the stock to new highs as it surged off the 10-week line.

Solar Company

SunPower is another of the fund’s strong performers. Its stock reached an all-time high Thursday after the company announced it raised $167.4 million with an equity offering to fund growth and pre-payments for a new silicon deal.

In June, the San Jose, Calif.-based maker of high-performance solar electric technology signed a 10-year silicon supply agreement with Hemlock Semiconductor, with deliveries beginning in 2010. SunPower’s earnings growth has remained in triple digits for the past three quarters. The company has a 98 RS.

Chinese manufacturer of solar modules Trina Solar, another top holding, has been shining. The firm is expanding quickly, trying to make its solar modules more effective. Though earnings have slowed, it’s seen an increase in revenue despite high raw materials prices.

August 8, 2007

JA Solar Raises Revenue Guidance

Filed under: JASO — Tags: , , — Jason @ 10:55 am

Wednesday August 8, 10:55 am ET

JA Solar Raises Full-Year Revenue Guidance to Between $300 Million and $310 Million

NEW YORK (AP) — JA Solar Holdings Co., a manufacturer of solar cells used to convert light to electricity, said Wednesday it is raising its revenue guidance for 2007 based on current market conditions and customer forecasts.JA Solar raised its outlook to a range between $300 million and $310 million. It had previously estimated revenue would be between $280 million and $290 million for the year.Analysts polled by Thomson Financial, on average, forecast full-year 2007 revenue of $307.4 million.

Shares of JA Solar rose $2.43, or 7 percent, to $36.98 in morning trading. Shares have traded between $16.17 and $43.87 during the past year.

August 3, 2007

Eighth-grader launches green tech company

Filed under: none — Tags: , — Jason @ 11:49 am

There are two ways to tackle a world-beating problem like global warming. The top-down approach: We can hang back and hope that the next administration is more interested in preserving, rather than exploiting, the planet we live on, and so will implement regulations and incentives to curb emissions, clean up the water, improve air quality, etc. Or we can go the bottom-up route and get busy taking care of the problem ourselves.

I saw a post on TreeHugger this morning about an eighth-grade CEO who’s launching a new solar panel company, Calsunenergy. He came up with the idea as a way to enter the California Clean Tech Open competition, which will announce winners next week. OK, so the CEO and his sixth-grade CTO are pre-revenue (his VP marketing is in fifth grade, which is somehow less surprising), but you have to admire the ambition.

There’s something in the water in Silicon Valley lately, and it’s not just mercury. Here’s a snip from the story:

It all started when one of them attended a California Clean Tech Open event with his dad. As dad was planning to enter the competition that is geared to help entrepreneurs who dream of starting their own environmentally friendly company, his son raised his hand and asked a simple question. “Is there an age limit for entering the competition?” When the answer was “no,” the kids swung into action, researching ideas for new renewable energy products. And about a month ago they informally launched Santa Clara-based Calsunergy with hopes of selling low-cost, high-efficiency solar panels and entering the competition. Of course, they’re hoping to win the $50,000 prize that goes along with free office space for a year, legal and public relations help, and a mentor. But Bao Tran, father of the company’s chief financial officer points out that “The intent of having these kids go into it is to see how far they can go on their own,” and that’s because “The winning or losing of the competition is not very important… It’s the process of thinking and going through developing the business plan that is important.”

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