Recharging one’s solar batteries

Quarterly financials pour out, market research firms duke it out, NYT lets the solar data shout

solar spicon financials

There’s nothing like some time off to recharge the workaday batteries and refresh one’s perspective. In reviewing the solar content stream that coursed through the mediasphere during my absence over the past week-plus, there’s a heady mix of the usual newsworthy suspects, prognosticational pronouncements, mainstream press posts, and unexpected laboratorial findings. Here’s an initial sampler, with more musings to come in subsequent posts.

A slew of solar companies came out with their quarterly earnings announcements–or at least revised guidance statements–including industry leaders such as China Sunergy, SunEdison, SMA, SolarCity, Enphase, Neo Solar Power, Hanwha SolarOne, Trina, Canadian Solar, GCL Poly, SolarWorld, and reigning alpha Yingli Green. A common thread among most of them, especially the cell/module crew, was an increase in product moving out the factory door. In the case of Trina and CanSolar, Q3 guidance for shipments and gross margins jumped up significantly ahead of their official quarterlies, while GCL warned that its polysilicon capacity is tapped out and can’t meet customer demand. Profit margins (AKA net income) remained elusive but nearly everyone’s financials (except once-mighty SMA) treaded water or, in most cases, looked sturdier and headed in the right direction.

When it comes to PV production equipment forecasting, IHS and NPD Solarbuzz continue their disputatious tussle. Although both research outfits see improved fundamentals for the capital side of the upstream business, they diverge when it comes to how much of the additional manufacturing capacity that must ramp soon to meet increasing demand will come from outsourcing, secondary equipment, leases, and other approaches (the Solarbuzz position) and internal or captive production (the IHS stance). For the equipment suppliers, this is no small matter, since the difference between the sales of new tooling, the repurposing of legacy gear by tier two and three companies (or even fallen tier ones like Suntech or LDK), and the increased use of contracted manufacturers could either invigorate or further eviscerate the surviving OEMs’ order books. One of those survivors, Applied Materials, will issue its Q3 financials later this week, which could add what the analysts like to call “color” to the PV equipment market models. Or not.

The New York Times has ventured into the solar power realm once again, with a reasonably solid special report headlined, for better or worse (cliché alert!), “Solar Power Begins to Shine as Environmental Benefits Pay Off.” One set of comparative factoids makes the Curator smile in a climate change conspiratorial way: “Based on comparative life-cycle analyses of power sources, ‘PV electricity contributes 96% to 98% less greenhouse gases than electricity generated from 100% coal and 92% to 96% less greenhouse gases than the European electricity mix,’” Carol Olson, a researcher at the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands, told the Times. “’Compared with electricity from coal, PV electricity over its lifetime uses 86 to 89% less water, occupies or transforms over 80% less land, presents approximately 95% lower toxicity to humans, contributes 92 to 97% less to acid rain, and 97 to 98% less to marine eutrophication,” she said. Eutrophication (Scrabble alert!) is the discharge of excess nutrients that causes algal blooms,’” according to the Times.

Now that’s what I call bankable information for those inevitable discussions of fossil fuel versus solar power (“pricing” is not a measure of true, all-inclusive cost, yo) and their respective impacts on the planet.