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SolarCity Stock Should Continue to Rise As Solar Becomes More Affordable

Energy is one of the world's largest sectors in the market; therefore energy stocks comprise a large amount of the portfolios of institutional and individual investors. Oil, of course, is the largest in the energy sector at roughly 36%, followed by natural gas at 24%. Interestingly one of the most talked about sources of energy, solar energy, still only comprises one quarter of one percent of today's energy supply. However those numbers should shift upward over the next decade as witnessed by last year's 86% growth in the solar industry. In the U.S, solar energy consumption grew by nearly 34% reaching 0.212 quadrillion Btu. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that solar will gain 24%, second largest share of new power capacity behind wind power, added in terms of GW by 2030.

Though the "green" movement does play a role to some extent, what may actually be driving the shift toward solar energy in residential and commercial buildings may be simple economics. People want to use cleaner energy to run their houses or businesses, but most are not willing to spend the extra money, or simply do not have the financial means to pay the extra costs to convert to solar. In 2005, solar panels typically cost $3.50 per watt of power, however, by 2012 prices had tumbled to 75 cents a watt, and some experts predict the prices will continue to fall, making it more cost effective for the consumer to have installed on their home or business.

But buying and installing solar panels is still costly, and could take upwards of twenty, for solar to pay for it. That's why the biggest shift in solar has come from companies leasing the panels to the customer and selling them the electricity at a reduced price compared to what the utility companies charge. It appears to be a win - win situation; as the industry has appeared to overcome a major obstacle eliminating the large upfront costs, and the solar company that leased and installed the panels makes money selling back the energy to the customer. For that reason, I believe the money to be made by the investors might be better placed in companies that buy the panels and install them, then have the customers lease them, thus making it affordable to the consumer.

That is what SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY), a San Mateo CA company does. SolarCity designs, installs and sells or leases solar energy systems to residential and commercial customers, then sells the electricity generated by the solar energy systems back to customer at 10% to 20% less than the utility companies. And its business model appears to have attracted plenty of investors, as witnessed by the stocks run-up of over 250% since its December 2012 public offering.

In June, SolarCity announced the launch of a Zero-Down solar financing program for the home building industry, giving builders the opportunity to offer solar in new residential communities without the builder or the new homeowner incurring any upfront costs. In the first five months of 2013, the total kilowatts [KW] of SolarCity's installations for new home builder construction grew by more than 300% compared to the same period the previous year. Through its Homebuilder Partner Program, SolarCity has formed partnerships with over 30 national and regional home builders in 125 communities across the U.S.

According to Walter Cuculic, SolarCity's national manager of Builder Programs:

Home builders today are investing heavily in adopting green construction practices and solar is a linchpin in the success of a modern, energy efficient home. SolarCity's full-service offering and our new Zero-Down financing option helps home builders meet their aggressive construction timelines and stay within their budgets, and solar will save money for the homebuyer on their energy bills for years to come.

The company's initiative, where it plans to build more than $1 billion in solar projects to provide power to up to 120,000 military homes in the United States, continues to show success. On July 23rd SolarCity announced plans to add 12.8 megawatts of new solar generation capacity for up to 7,500 military homes at Lend Lease-managed Island Palm Communities throughout the island of Oahu. SolarStrong projects are already underway at nine other military bases throughout the U.S.

SolarCity was chosen by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) to install solar panels in 60 stores in California. SolarCity will own and maintain the solar power systems, and has added more than 500 new full-time employees since it initiated its first Wal-Mart solar project, and expects to hire hundreds more employees before year's end. Wal-Mart's solar power initiative will total more than 130 stores by the close of 2013.

Mack Wyckoff, senior manager of renewable energy at Wal-Mart, commented on the solar project:

Our solar efforts in California have proven to be a great way for Wal-Mart to build our renewable energy program. We are confident that we will continue to grow our solar energy program in the U.S. and around the world because of the initial success we have had in California.

While the business model and growth all sound positive, and SolarCity, which has a $3.12 billion market capitalization, has seen its customer base rise 106% year-over-year to over 57,400 and though the company increased its long-term contracted cash flow to $1.22 billion, it has yet to turn a profit. The reason is that though leasing the solar panels has shown to be the most successful method to attract clients, the long term leasing model requires upfront costs for the panels and the instillation, thus the company does not see any profits until the customer base expands enough to produce offsetting lease income. However, with panel prices continuing to drop, the company's upfront costs will drop as well. According to Kevin Landis, manager of the Firsthand Alternative Energy fund, in reference to SolarCity's business model:

When the price of panels goes down, their business gets better. The sweet spot is buying the panels and owning the output.

SolarCity stock closed on Wed. July 31 at $41.35 per share. For the first quarter of 2013, core operating lease revenue rose 85% to $15.1 million compared to $8.1 million in the first quarter of 2012. Total revenue grew 21% year-over-year to $30.0 million. Gross Profit rose 25% to $12.7 million, up from $10.1 million in the first quarter of 2012. Total operating expenses, however, rose $34.5 million in the first quarter compared to $24.7 million in the first quarter of 2012, due in part to the continued investments in development capabilities. For the second quarter 2013, SolarCity expects operating lease revenue to come in be between $16 million - $18 million, with solar energy systems sale revenue between $5 million - $10 million, and an operating expenses to be between $38 million - $42 million.

SolarCity does have its competitors like the larger SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), a high quality solar panel producer based in San Jose, CA, that designs, manufactures and delivers solar panels and systems to residential, business, government and utility customers. SunPower has also built its leasing business to be the largest U.S. both residential and commercial, and globally the company has installed over 100,000 residential systems. Shares of SunPower have had an amazing run year to date, up 391%. After hours on July 31st, the company reported net income for the second quarter of $19.6 million or $0.15 per share, compared to a net loss of $84.2 million or $$0.71 per share for the same quarter last year. SunPower forecasts for the third quarter adjusted revenue of $550 million to $600 million and adjusted earnings of $0.15 to $0.35 per share. For fiscal 2013 the company expects adjusted revenue of $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion and raised its adjusted earnings from $0.60 to $0.80 per share to $1.00 to $1.30 per share. On August 1st, shares of SunPower dropped 10% on high volume to $25.20 in mid-day trading.

Conclusion

Solar power in residential and commercial is clearly on the rise with plenty of room to grow. Interestingly, what might accelerate the growth is that instructional investors have not gobbled up solar company shares; roughly 20% of SunPower shares are held by institutional investors, and only 17% of SolarCity is owned by institutional investors.

While I think both SolarCity and SunPower have the potential to continue to see their stocks rise significantly in the next few years, what I like about SolarCity is that it does not manufacture the solar panels, so it does not have to compete with the Chinese manufacturers. SolarCity focuses primarily on the design, installation, the finance and the management of the system. Though with the high run up on both companies, I would like to see the stocks dip on some profit taking for a better entry price.

Source: SolarCity's Stock Should Continue To Rise As Solar Becomes More Affordable