Will Foreigners Buy Out The U.S. Solar Sector?

Includes: ABB, FSLR, GE, SPWR
by: Dana Blankenhorn

Very quietly, Switzerland's “long term winner” (according to Bret Jensen) ABB (ABB) has been able to pick up a nice bargain in America's troubled solar sector.

The bargain is Greenvolts. Greenvolts doesn't make solar panels. It turns panels into systems. A turnkey system for panels reduces costs and can increase the panels' solar efficiency. ABB picked up a “substantial minority” stake in the company for just $20 million. Pocket change for a company with $1 billion in the bank.

This follows the takeover earlier this year of most of SunPower (SPWR), one of two “non-penny” stocks in the U.S. production portfolio, by Total of France.Total paid $1.38 billion for a 70% stake, and can take out the rest for less than half that.

First Solar (FSLR), long the country's most successful solar producer, is now valued at under $3 billion, a PE of 5.5. The company's ability to re-sell projects makes it viable no matter what happens with panel prices. This could easily be the next to go, the question being whether it will be bought by a Chinese producer, a European one, or (maybe) GE (GE).

With solar power still thought, in the U.S. to cost more than grid power, solar panel producers are under enormous pressure from “over-production.” But as crossover occurs in more-and-more places – as the cost of owning and maintaining a solar system falls below the local price of grid energy – this over-supply is going to become a shortage, and prices are going to rise.

New breakthroughs in areas like Building Integrated PhotoVoltaics, in nanotechnology and in the use of solar systems to make fuel make it obvious to me that it's not too late for the U.S. to lead in this sector. Now may indeed be a good time for us to dump the old technology and focus on the new.

The only question is whether nationalists in the government will let us.

Disclosure: I am long GE.