The Search for the Next First Solar

Includes: ESLRQ, FSLR
by: Dana Blankenhorn

These are the best of times for solar energy. The market is growing, the Japanese nuclear crisis has placed a halo around the space, and capital is flowing to buy the product in bulk.

The recent decisions by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and McGraw-Hill (MHP) to buy into solar projects are illustrative. These two deals alone represent $340 million in finished good purchases. The photovoltaic (PV) industry's book-to-bill ratio is healthy .

But these are also the worst of times for some solar investors. It is inevitable that in any new technology you're going to find start-up companies, hungry for capital, dipping into the penny stock market, or falling into the bargain bin.

That's where Evergreen Solar (ESLR) finds itself, circling the drain following a series of poor decisions. Once a favorite of smart hedge fund managers like those at Oaktree Capital it's now on Chapter 11 watch.

On the other hand we have QSolar, actually a British company that went public in Canada through a reverse takeover of Bricol Capital Corp.

QSolar is built around two patented technologies, a laminating process called SprayTech 79 (it has 79 compounds in it) and a wafer manufacturing process called Kruciwatt.

This makes possible the production of Kristal semi-transparent solar panels, available in designer colors, that could change the whole solar game because the solar technology is built into existing building materials

It's possible QSolar sought capital as it did because it's run by Andreas Tapakoudes, a Cypriot inventor who has also worked as an installer and designer. (Not the kind of man Oaktree would have on its speed dial.)

The company has just over 41 million shares but very little float. When an investor decided to cash out 60,000 shares recently, it cut the company's value by one-fourth.

Yet they're opening a manufacturing plant in Shanghai, they are accelerating shipments to Europe and they're proving value even on top of chemical plants, a pretty harsh environment.

There may be something I'm missing in this story. The panels the company is shipping are pretty low power – just 250-500 watts each. The volumes aren't enormous, and while Tapakoudes says he can deliver panels at under $1/watt he hasn't scaled yet.

So he could be the next Evergreen, or he could be the next First Solar . That's the way the new technology game is played. It doesn't matter who your friends are or where you come from. What matters is whether you perform.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.