Investor outlook: Four solar companies to watch as the industry matures

The following perspective was shared with us via Financialbuzz.com

Over the course of the last several years the solar industry has finally gone mainstream. A recent research published on December 12, 2016 by The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows how much progress has been made. The U.S. installed 4,143 megawatts (MW) of solar PV in the third quarter of 2016 to reach 35.8 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity, enough to power 6.5 million American homes. With more than 1 million residential solar installations nationwide and record-breaking growth in the utility-scale sector, the industry is projected to nearly double year-over-year.

Despite the encouraging numbers however, the industry still faces the challenges that are so familiar to businesses reaching maturity – improving efficiency and cutting costs. Thanks to technological innovations, the solar market is combating these challenges. Solarwindow Technologies, Corning Incorporated, Tesla, Canadian Solar, First Solar.

The innovations ahead

Nevada solar utility

Most solar companies today manufacture solar panels using large portions of silicon, called ingots, and cut it into small rectangular shapes. These silicon components account for approximately 40% of the cost of production for solar panels. While some companies have been finding ways to manufacture panels for cheaper using the same materials, the expectations are now somewhat different.

According to a report by Fortune, “today as the industry matures, much more of the expected lowered production costs will come from new components that plug into traditional silicon solar panels, new ways to manage the electrons from panels, or new ways to finance and sell the panels.” In addition, some innovative companies are coming up with entire new techniques to salvage the sun’s energy.

Solarwindow Technologies creates transparent electricity-generating liquid coatings. When applied to glass or plastics, these coatings convert passive windows and other materials into electricity generators under natural, artificial, low, shaded, and even reflected light conditions. Earlier this week, Solarwindow Technologies announced that, “it has been named a winner in the 2017 BIG Innovation Awards presented by the Business Intelligence Group.

Unlike conventional solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, the company’s coatings can be applied to all sides of tall towers, generating electricity using natural and artificial light, as well from diffused and reflected light, and in shaded areas.

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When applied to a 50-story building, SolarWindow could avoid more than two million miles of equivalent carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles on the road, reduce electricity costs by as much as 50 percent per year, provide 15-times the environmental benefits over other roof-top solar PV systems, and according to independently-validated engineering modeling, could achieve a one-year financial payback.”

On Jan. 18, Solarwindow Technologies revealed that the company’s “scientists and engineers recently applied layers of the company’s liquid coatings on to Corning Willow Glass and laminated them under conditions that simulate the high pressure and temperatures of the manufacturing processes used by commercial glass and window producers. The result is a bendable glass ‘veneer’, as thin as a business card, which generates electricity.” The Corning Willow Glass is developed by Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW), a company with expertise in specialty glass, ceramics, and optical physics.

American automaker and energy storage company, Tesla Inc., showcased it’s at-home battery, the Powerwall 2, for homes and small businesses that stores the sun’s energy and delivers clean, reliable electricity when the sun isn’t shining. Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk, emphasizes that homes can capture this free, abundant energy source through rooftop solar tiles, turning sunlight into electricity for immediate use or storage in a Powerwall battery. The new Tesla Powerwall 2 will cost around $5,500, which consist of a built-in inverter and twice the storage capacity of the first ever Powerwall battery. The product is not yet available out in the market.

Canadian Solar Inc. announced that it has completed the sale of the outstanding shares of 3 utility-scale solar farm holding companies, SSM 1 Solar ULC, SSM 2 Solar ULC, and SSM 3 Solar ULC, totaling 59.8 MW AC to Fengate SSM Holdco LP, an affiliate of Fengate Real Asset Investments for over $195.32 Million. Dr. Shawn Qu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Solar, commented, “We are delighted to announce the successful sale of 3 additional solar power plants. To this point, we have sold all of our operating plants of 100 MWdc in Canada, including the BeamLight and Alfred projects sold in December 2016. We value our partnership with Fengate and look forward to deepening our cooperation while we continue to monetize our solar power plants in other countries.”

First Solar Inc. has been awarded the module supply contract for the 140-megawatt Sun Metals Solar Farm in North Queensland, Australia. The project marks the largest solar initiative by the country and, once constructed, is set to utilize more than 1.16 million First Solar advanced thin-film photovoltaic modules to produce approximately 270,000 megawatt-hours of energy in its first year of operation.

“Large-scale solar is fast becoming one of the most cost-effective sources of energy generation in Australia. This project represents the viability of the commercial and industrial solar market in Australia, and the growing trend of major energy consumers owning and operating renewable energy assets,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s regional manager for Asia Pacific.

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