This Week in Solar: The Race to Grid Parity

by: Toby Shute

This was a jam-packed week for solar news, so forgive me in advance if I missed something.

eSolar made serious Sino-waves with a major project announcement in China over the weekend. You can read all about that one right here. One thing I did not mention is that the concentrating solar thermal power [CSP] company is looking at integrating biomass generation, which could allow the power plants to operate at 90% of capacity. That would significantly boost the already-impressive 65% capacity factor that Sandia Labs has estimated that a molten-salt power tower could be expected to achieve.

On Monday, Solarfun Power (Nasdaq: SOLF) and Q-Cells (OTCPK:QCLSF) announced module deals in China and project wins in Canada, respectively, but the figures involved were modest. More interesting was the investment by Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) in CIGS thin-film startup Nuvosun, which is led by Dave Pearce, the founder and former CEO of Miasole. That latter company became one of the first to ship commercial CIGS modules last year, and just won over $100 million in tax credits from Uncle Chu. This Pearce fellow clearly has some interesting ideas. Nuvosun will be one to watch.

On Tuesday, there were some bullish announcements by Suntech Power (NYSE: STP) and JA Solar (Nasdaq: JASO). Suntech said it's sold out of product through at least the second quarter. The company said it's not the only one facing this kind of situation, which is obviously encouraging for investors in Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL) or Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE). Suntech also mentioned that Germany accounts for less than half of sales, which is a good thing. We'll get to that later.

As for JA Solar, the cell maker projected global demand of as much as nine gigawatts this year. The company appears to be making strong inroads in overseas markets, and said that it may exit 2010 with 50% of sales going outside of China.

On Wednesday, France cut its feed-in tariff subsidy by 24%. That sounds draconian, but the previous rate was a ridiculous $0.80 per watt. The new rate is in line with the current German rate.

This move didn't really appear to disturb solar investors. A Reuters report on Thursday that Germany may cut its own tariff by 16% to 17% as early as April was not received with equanimity, however. Shares tanked pretty much across the board, with players like Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ) generally hit harder than U.S. players like SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA). Shares are taking an additional beating today, as Bloomberg has estimated the pending tariff cut at 17%-18%.

So, was the selloff an overreaction?

Disclosure: Author has no positions in companies mentioned