SolarCity Shows Private Sector Can Address DoE Funding Gap

Includes: STP, TSL, YGE
by: Clean Energy Intel

Solar City has today announced that it has obtained private sector financing for its SolarStrong Project to put solar on the rooftops of 120,000 military homes across the US over a five-year period. Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) has now agreed to provide the financing, though the project has been slightly downsized from it original target of 160,000 homes.

This is very good news for the solar sector. SolarCity had of course been let down by the Department of Energy, which in the immediate aftermath of the Solyndra affair had said that it could not complete SolarCity´s $275 million application for a loan guarantee in time for the September 30 deadline for the program (more detail here). It is certainly favorable to see the private sector step in and fill the gap left where the DoE was unable to follow through.

Hopefully, this is a clear sign that the private sector will be willing to finance fairly large-scale solar and other renewable energy projects without the protection of DoE loan guarantees. This is a critical issue facing the solar industry in the US, which faces a 24 GW utility scale pipeline -- a very positive source of continuing demand, but one which needs to be financed on a large scale.

This latest development is a clear plus for the solar industry. This adds to two recent developments which suggest that the supply-demand imbalance in the global solar sector may finally be adjusting:

  • A number of the top-tier Chinese solar players have announced a halt to their previously extensive plans for capacity expansion (for a fuller discussion, see here).
  • The latest data shows something close to an explosion in demand for solar out of China and the rest of the Asia Pacific. Together with the adjustment to capacity plans mentioned above, this should help erode the current over supply and excess inventory position in the industry over the course of 2012. (More detail here.)

For this first time in quite a while, these factors are beginning to provide a reasonably solid bull case for the solar sector. Since our recommendation to get long a basket of Suntech Power (NYSE:STP), Yingli Green Energy (NYSE:YGE) and Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL), all three have rallied nicely. We would stick with that strategy. Solar stocks are likely to continue to be volatile. However, the sector in general is cheap and we now have the basis for the fundamentals in the industry to start to adjust in the right direction.

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