5 Solar Stocks on My Clean Energy Shopping List

by: Tom Konrad, CFA

The market correction I've been expecting seems to have begun. If it continues, I will start buying again. Here are five solar (and solar balance of system) stocks I'd buy at the right price.

This article continues my Clean Energy Stocks Shopping List series. So far I've brought you:

Long-time readers will know that I don't focus on solar because I feel that too many other analysts cover the sector, and so it is much more difficult to gain an informational advantage. I expect the price drops in the cost of photovoltaic modules, caused by efficiency gains from thin film producers such as Ascent Solar Technologies Inc (NASDAQ:ASTI) and First Solar Inc (NASDAQ:FSLR) and from increased solar grade silicon supply continue. For instance, LDK Solar (NYSE:LDK) is having trouble with decreasing revenues despite increased demand. This trend should benefit sellers of balance of system components, such as inverters, something which many investors considering solar plays are unlikely to consider.

I'm also a long time fan of Concentrating Solar Power [CSP], mainly because it is the only dispatchable form of renewable electricity that has no practical limitations on scale. My optimism is fueled by the Department of the Interior's recent move to speed solar development on public lands, something which has been a major roadblock to CSP.

#1 Solar Millennium AG (OTC:SMLNF) is a proven project developer, having completed two 50 MW CSP plants with 8 hours of thermal storage in Spain. When I wrote about Solar Millennium in May, the stock was trading at $18. I didn't buy, because I was already becoming bearish about the short term market outlook, but readers who did have seen 80% gains, due to a deal with Southern California Edison to build two 242 MW CSP plants, and the growing momentum of the Desertec initiative. I still like the company, but I don't like the price, so I'm waiting on the sidelines.

If Solar Millennium's stock does not drop to a point where I again feel comfortable, I can continue to participate in CSP through the back door with my Electricity Transmission picks. More than any other form of renewable electricity, CSP will need a massive investment in transmission infrastructure. The best solar resources for CSP are in deserts, mostly far from the large electric load centers (with the exception of the desert Southwest and Southern California. In order to achieve its potential of balancing fluctuations from other renewable energy sources, we will need continent-wide networks of powerful electricity transmission, as envisioned by the Desertec initiative, and North American grand solar plans. Such plans typically call for High Voltage Direct Current transmission, in which Siemens (SI) and ABB Ltd. (NYSE:ABB) lead.

#2 SatCon Technology (SATC) is a leading supplier of inverters for large scale Photovoltaic and Wind farms. The company is not currently profitable, although analysts currently expect profitability in 2010. Between then and now, Satcon needed to find the money to fund at least another year of operating cash losses, which amounted to $10M in 2008. On July 3, the company raised $25M in additional preferred and common equity capital, which is enough to give the company a comfortable cushion.

The stock seems reasonably valued at the current $1.70, but a market decline will probably knock SatCon back with everything else.

#3 Power-One, Inc. (NASDAQ:PWER) is far more diversified than SatCon, producing a wide range of power conversion products in addition to renewable energy conversion. They serve both commercial and residential markets with their inverters, and their power converters for electronics are ubiquitous.

They are also not currently profitable, but they have substantial cash and recently raised more through a private offering, so they should only need to raise further cash if it comes on favorable terms.

Renewable energy is still only a small slice of their business (only part of the 16% of revenues in their "other" segment), and so Power-One is still mostly a bet on the IT market. But the strong balance sheet makes this one worth watching. I especially like the fact that two of the directors have been buying shares.

#4 Sustainable Energy Technologies (STG.V) is a development stage company working to use a massively parallel approach in order to achieve a higher electricity output from PV farms, with their technology especially targeted towards the fastest growing segment of PV, thin film. The company is not particularly well capitalized, with less than a year's worth of operating cash on the balance sheet, and the stock could easily be knocked down if they are forced to raise capital on unfavorable terms. However, an investor who uses such an opportunity to buy shares on the cheap will have bought a low-cost, highly leveraged thin film solar play.

#5 Advanced Energy Industries (NASDAQ:AEIS) is another diversified electronics play, which not only does power conversion for the solar market, but also power conversion for PV manufacturing. They also sell liquid and gas control systems and thermal instruments. The solar market accounts for about 20% of their sales.

Their solar inverters (introduced only in 2007) are particularly efficient, having achieved record ratings from the California Energy Commission, an advantage which should enable them to gain market share. With positive cash flow and a strong balance sheet, AEI seems to be the safest way to play the solar Balance of System.

DISCLOSURE: Tom Konrad and/or his clients own SI, ABB, SATC, STG.