A Quick Glance at Some Solar Companies — SPIR’s “Come to America” Leads the News

Renewable energy of all types is in the middle of a Gold Rush, with the Mother Lode being at the top of Pennsylvania Avenue.  Some aspects of renewable energy have a magic formula in that they can (a) generate energy independent of oil, (b) create jobs with “shovel-ready” projects, and (c) command very attractive financing, possibly with federal underwriting or guarantees.

Typical of a Gold Rush, there are crowds of people out there with pans working the streams and shovels digging holes.  And that can create a enough cross-currents and environmental noise that it can be difficult to tell who’s on first.  The biggest area of renewable energy right now is probably still solar energy, so let’s have a quick look at some recent comments, and some companies with interesting potentials.

Leading the solar news this morning is a fascinating piece from Bedford, MA-based Spire Corporation (Nasdaq: SPIR, http://www.spirecorp.com/), which announced a “Come to America” program of their own devising.  Not surprisingly, they realized that if they can lure foreign companies to the US to build solar-energy devices, those foreign companies can apply for what SPIR calls “full advantage of the newly signed economic stimulus bill.” http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Spire-Initiates-Come-to-bw-14410662.html

SPIR’s offer to would-be solar manufacturers is that SPIR itself — a veteran company in a variety of solar technologies, with well-established manufacturing, has been a supplier of turnkey factories, as well as developing, building and selling PV cells itself.  So for the European or Asian manufacturer, SPIR can be a one-stop shop.  From a government point of view, SPIR could conceivably be a funnel for federal funding leading to jobs and clean electricity (though to be clear, they do not imply the funding part in their news release).  Not surprisingly, SPIR is up more than 7% as I write this, to $7.11 on slightly heavier-than-average volume, though the 52-week high of $18.75 still looks a long way off.

At the same time, a range of solar-energy companies have begun to look a bit more sunnyside up themselves with the stimulus emphasis on renewables.  The biggest is Tempe, AZ-based First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR, http://www.firstsolar.com/), a stone’s throw from President Obama’s speech yesterday — they are up nearly 3% at the moment, to $132.99.   Much smaller, but still hefty, San Jose, CA-based SunPower Corp (Nasdaq:SPWRA, http://www.sunpowercorp.com),  is up more than 3% to $33.29, vs a high of $107.00.  Both of those could be considered blue-light specials by some shoppers, especially since SunPower is expecting to bring a 250-megawatt installation online in California in 2010, and was chosen by DOE to solar-electrify DOE’s own HQ in DC (http://seekingalpha.com/article/121436-solar-energy-brightens-up-on-stimulus-bill).  SunPower also was awarded more solar patents in 2008 than any other company, surpassing GE and Sharp.

Stepping down in market cap a bit more, Rochester Hills, MI-based Energy Conversion Devices Inc (Nasdaq: ENER, http://www.ovonic.com/) is flat-to-down, $25.65, vs a year-high of $83.33; and Wuxi, China-based Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP, http://www.suntech-power.com/), which has a sour outlook for the year upcoming, was down to $8.21 (down nearly 9%) versus a year-high of $51.75.

Perhaps more interesting to smallcap investors, Roseville, CA-based Solar Power Inc (EBB: SOPW, http://www.solarpowerinc.net/), which is presenting today at the Piper Jaffray CleanTech and Renewables Conference in NYC, is down to $0.53 from a year-high of $2.45, in spite of a series of recent wins. 

To bring in a balancingly dour view, it is also worth reading an article from SeekingAlpha this morning, entitled “Is Alternative Energy Dead?” http://seekingalpha.com/article/121458-is-alternative-energy-dead.

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