Solar in 2010: Better or Worse?

Is the solar industry heading into a recovery in 2010? Or will the oversupply of solar modules that helped make 2009 such a challenging year for most solar companies drag on another year? As the new year approaches, the outlook seems as unclear as ever.

On Monday, the bull camp won over a few more converts. JA Solar (s jaso) raised its guidance for the fourth quarter of 2009, expecting solar shipments to exceed 210 megawatts, compared with its previous estimate of shipments between 170 megawatts and 200 megawatts, thanks to “robust orders” from new and existing customers.

For all of 2010, JA said shipments would increase more than 60 percent to between 750 megawatts and 800 megawatts. JA Solar’s stock, which rose 16 percent during market hours (before the announcement), was up another 6 percent in after hours trading to $5.64.
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Suntech Reaches 1GW of Solar Manufacturing Capacity

China’s Suntech Power Holdings (s STP) announced a big milestone today, hitting 1 gigawatt (GW) of photovoltaic cell and module production capacity in Wuxi, nearly doubling the firm’s 2007 output of 540 megawatts.

suntech_headquarters

Today’s news comes after a tough year for solar stocks, with shares of Suntech, Yingli Green Energy (s YGE), JA Solar (s JASO) and Evergreen Solar (s ESLR) all losing more than 80 percent of their value in 2008. But Suntech’s big production capacity could help it ride out the economic storm; the larger output could help push prices down for the company’s solar cells and modules, which could attract more buyers. Suntech CEO Zhengrong Shi said last month that an expected oversupply of polysilicon this year could cut the company’s prices event further — 20-30 percent compared with the third quarter of 2008.
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10 Memorable Cleantech Lawsuits From 2008

Any time business goes bad, you can expect lawsuits to follow; the cleantech industry is no exception, and the last year saw plenty of court action.

While we’re all ready to embrace 2009, we couldn’t help but take one more look back at 2008 and draw up this list of the most memorable lawsuits in cleantech. The Top 10 include three from electric car maker Tesla, six involving large solar manufacturing firms and one weirdo wildcard. Who’s going to turn to the courts in 2009? [digg=http://digg.com/environment/10_Memorable_Cleantech_Lawsuits_From_2008]

1). Emcore’s Class Action: The latest, slipped in just before the turn of the new year, involves a proposed class-action lawsuit against Emcore (s EMKR), a solar and broadband company, which claims that Emcore had overstated the size of its order backlog and artificially inflated its share price. The news sent the company’s shares plunging from a 52-week high of $15.70 per share on Jan. 2, 2008 to close at $1.08 per share Friday, a year later. What a way to start out 2009.

2). Magna vs. Tesla: Tesla Motors had more than its fair share of lawsuits in 2008. First of all Magna Powertrain, which designs, tests and makes powertrains, filed one against the electric-sports-car startup in February, alleging that Tesla owed it $5.6 million for unpaid transmission work.

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What a Dark Year for Solar Stocks

Many are glad to have shut the door on 2008. Few are likely to be happier than solar-power companies.

Of the six solar stocks valued at more than $500 million (a club that grew much smaller during 2008), none outperformed the S&P 500 index, which fell 38 percent last year. The stock that came closest to matching it was First Solar (s FSR), which lost 48 percent in 2008. First Solar’s low-cost thin-film technology kept profits growing, and kept the stock from falling further.

Behind First Solar came SunPower (s SPWR), which slid 72 percent. Yingli Green Energy (s YGE), Suntech Power (s STP), JA Solar (s JASO) and Evergreen Solar (s ESLR) all lost more than 80 percent this year, which is more than the Nasdaq fell from the frenzied peak of March 2000 to the rock bottom of October 2002 (a decline of 78 percent).

The declines are especially stark considering there was some positive news for solar companies that could have caused a rally in a normal year. Congress finally renewed a solar tax credit. VCs invested billions into solar startups. States like California and Massachusetts were leaning on utilities to use more solar power.
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What’s It Like Looking for New Media Work Now?

Layoffs have become the dominant story as we near the end of 2008. After writing about the cold economic realities for companies that have had to cut staff, we wanted to find out what it was like for the people who are now unemployed. Just how bad is it out there for new media folks looking for work? We talked with three people at different stages of their job search to see what, exactly, they’re up against.

sarahlaneSarah Lane was with Revision3 for a year and a half before being laid off at the end of October. While she did a lot at the company, she was best known as the host of popSiren. I spoke with her just a couple weeks after she had been let go.

“It’s great to be unemployed sit in my pajamas for like five minutes,” Lane said. The problem she encountered is that even though there are companies interested in her, there’s just a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the market right now. “Some people have said ‘If I could guarantee that you had a job in a year I’d hire you,'” said Lane. Problem is, those companies can’t guarantee anything right now.

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Desperately Seeking Solar’s Safe Haven

J.P. Morgan analyst Christopher Blansett created some buzz in the solar sector Monday with a note urging investors to make a “flight to safety” — noting that companies will have to weather “reduced solar subsidies next year, higher solar system borrowing costs and increasing competition at all levels of the solar PV food chain.”
Those factors, combined together, could damage the weaker players in the industry.
And investors, having stomached several months of volatility — most of it downward — are surely craving some safety. Just this week, MEMC cut its own forecast for this quarter. The solar-wafer manufacturer expects $500 million in revenue (down from $570 million) and its gross profit to be 48 percent of profit (down from 50 percent).
MEMC’s darker forecast follows another one that made even bigger waves last week: JA Solar (JASO), whose executives weren’t content with slashing its own guidance but went a big step further and used a word that can trigger a cascade of sell orders: “At this moment the market reaction has been panic,” JA’s CEO Samuel Yang said.
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Evergreen Solar to Barclays: Give Me Back My Stock!

Remember those tens of millions of shares that Lehman Brothers held in solar companies as part of convertible bond deals it underwrote? It seems Barclays PLC ended up holding them after it bought Lehman’s broker dealer business following the U.S. investment bank’s bankruptcy.
A couple of weeks ago, Barclays filed notice with the SEC to disclose that it now owned sizeable stakes of Evergreen Solar (s ESLR), SunPower (s SPWRA) and JA Solar (s JASO), which meant it was in a position to sell all of them into the open market and dilute the stocks just when the solar industry is facing what the New York Times called “big new challenges.” Read More about Evergreen Solar to Barclays: Give Me Back My Stock!

Congress Bickers, Solar Stocks Crumble

The failed passage of a financial bailout bill has taken a harsh toll on most corners of the stock market, but few sectors saw steeper one-day declines Monday than solar stocks. That’s largely because there was a second piece of bad news coming from Congress that had special meaning for the solar industry.

Much like the bailout debacle, the House of Representatives and the Senate can’t find agreement on how to extend energy tax credits that are key to a more mainstream embracing of solar panels among businesses and homeowners. Incentives such as tax credits and subsidies are crucial to lowering the costs of solar power to make it competitive enough to reach a large scale.

The perception that Congress had been dragging its feet was a big factor in driving down solar-stock prices this year. Now legislators are taking action, but the arguing and sniping from both houses is threatening to delay a bill possibly into early 2009. More details on the political deadlock can be found at Congressional Quarterly and Bloomberg.
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Chris Crocker Fails to Leave YouTube As Promised

Like Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking at the front door, a breakout the night before the big dance and other annoyances, one would think the right approach to Chris Crocker ought to be, “Ignore him and he’ll go away.” Alas, that appears not to work. After declaring dramatically last month that he was leaving YouTube forever, Crocker posted a new video yesterday entitled I Am YouTube.

What do you get for your two minutes and 20 seconds? Some claims that he’s made up with the YouTube powers-that-be (though he is still not a YouTube partner), some shameless boasting about being the so-called “face of YouTube,” a Tay Zonday ejaculation joke, and then some shameless plugging of his new single — that’s right, Chris Crocker is now available in dance music form. (The single reached the top iTunes top 100 the week of Sept. 22nd, according to a video blog post that week; it has since dropped off the charts.)

Crocker continues to intrigue me mainly because I fail to understand what his appeal is. While much of his earlier popularity was built on his championing of alternative lifestyles, ever since Leave Britney Alone! Crocker has abandoned his message to instead focus on self-promotion. Who are the people who now consider themselves Chris Crocker fans? What percentage of them contributed to the nearly 100,000 views I Am YouTube has so far received? What percentage does that leave? And how many viewers are like me, just gawking?

Lehman Collapse Unsettles Solar Sector

The turmoil on Wall Street has until now had a muted impact on clean technology, but that’s starting to change. Some solar stocks are reeling from the shock waves of Lehman Brother’s bankruptcy.

Evergreen Solar (ESLR), JA Solar (JASO) and SunPower (SPWR) took hard hits early Tuesday, falling between 10 percent and 28 percent at the opening. Although each stock has since regained ground — JASO and SPWR were actually back in the green as of midday trading — the three stocks have given up between a tenth and a third of their value this week.

Each company had been in a stock-lending agreement with Lehman, leaving the bankrupt firm with shares that could complicate their future earnings. As Reuters explains,

“Under the deals, the three companies all lent shares to a Lehman subsidiary as part of stock issuances. If Lehman fails to return the shares as laid out under the agreements, they could be counted as part of their outstanding share counts, diluting the earnings per share of the companies.”

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