Thursday, September 18, 2008

Solar Integrators Deliver Growth

Solar Integrators Deliver Growth

POINT ROBERTS, WA and DELTA, BC—September 18, 2008
Green Investor at Investorideas.com
http://www.investorideas.com/gi/
Column by Paulo Nery Exclusively for Investorideas.com

Solar Integrators Deliver Growth

While the whole market seemed to be slipping downhill on September 15th, there was one bold company that actually listed publicly that day and seemed to roar straight out of the gates. That company was Premier Power Renewable Energy Inc (OTCBB: PPRW) which launched on the Over the Counter (OTC) bulletin board via a reverse merger rather than a standard IPO.

Premier Power (www.premierpower.com) is one of several solar integration companies who make it their business to design and build solar power installations on a medium to large scale. They install systems for commercial, municipal and agricultural as well as residential customers. One of their core markets is wineries and vineyards. Premier operates in Spain, California, Nevada, New York and New Jersey. Plus they are now said to be looking for business in France and Italy.

According to the company’s press release it closed a $7 million private placement of 3.5 million shares at $2 each. Their market capitalization comes in at $151.8 million. They claim customers such as KB Home, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Princeton University, Shafer Vineyards, Silverado Wineries, ATT, and Jay Leno among others.

Premier Power says they posted sales of $16.7 million in 2007 with a net income of $843,865 for the year. They also report that they have contracted $48 million in sales for 2008. At face value, that’s almost 300% growth. However they’ve posted slightly under $18 million on their income statement for the first six months of 2008.

These are some very good and encouraging numbers for Premier. However, I’m cautious about new listings and it will take time to learn about this company. On a macro, level their business may be growing rapidly but for the time being supplies of solar panels could hold them back. Solar panel supplies have been tight for the past three years because silicon supply has been limited. Two of the biggest manufacturers BP Solar and Kyocera say they’re sold out for this year and so do many others. On the other hand, solar manufacturing capacity is ramping up quickly, so next year and beyond could be different.

Premier’s rapid growth in 2008 sales is impressive, but it could be partly due to clients rushing to get systems installed ahead of the expiration of the Federal tax credits at the end of this year. Several other solar installers and integrators have reported this happening among their clients too. Though the existing scheme of tax credits is widely expected to be extended or even made slightly better.

And while the business is obviously growing, solar power is not really economically viable yet at the true cost of solar photovoltaic panels. The entire solar industry is underpinned by government subsidy and incentives at the moment. That’s a place where nothing is really for certain, and seems slightly uncomfortable to me. It’s fairly clear that if Senator Obama wins the presidential election he’ll be pushing for more solar incentives which will help companies like Premier. But Senator McCain’s position is somewhat less clear.

Longer term, there are positive factors for solar integrators and installers. Firstly, silicon prices are falling. Then there are alternative solar technologies emerging like thin film which hold out the promise of much lower cost. Companies like XsunX (OTCBB:XSNX) are working to complete the assembly of their multi-megawatt thin film manufacturing operations and begin delivering thin film solar modules to a growing market that is clamouring for more supplies and lower prices solutions. In addition to thin film technologies offering lower costs today experts expect that costs may continue to go lower still making thin film solutions such as those offered by XsunX highly attractive. Thin film is generally seen as a utility scale solution because of its lower efficiency and therefore greater area needed to generate the same power. But as its cost drops and efficiency increases it will make increasing sense for small commercial and residential applications. That could easily spark new demand and at the same time improve margins for the installers and integration companies.

Premier is by no means the only big solar installer/integrator play out there. Another to consider is Akeena Solar (AKNS) which with a market cap of $108 million, is a similar company to PPRW in size and in their operating regions. Akeena Solar (www.akeena.net) focuses on markets in California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. But Akeena is also more focused on residential and small commercial market which according to SolarBuzz, a research and consulting firm, represent approximately 65 percent of the U.S. market, and will continue to do so through 2010.

One of the things that sets Akeena apart is their patented installation methods and products. They have identified that mounting arrays on rooftops is a time consuming and hazardous undertaking. So they came up with a way to cut some of the steps out of the process. Ordinarily installers put brackets on the roof, then the racking system, then mount and wire the panels. Akeena’s new Andalay technology cuts out 50% of the rooftop labor and uses 70% fewer parts. They build the racks directly onto the panels and pre-wire the array so that the individual panels snap together easily on the roof. The result is also sleeker looking with the individual panels closer together and the whole array lying lower to the roof so less obtrusive.

Akeena is not yet profitable, but say they expect to be by 2010. For 2007 they reported losses of $11 million against sales of $32 million. Their stated goal for 2008 is to double revenues from 2007. They are clearly positioning themselves for the residential and small commercial market which they believe will be significantly more lucrative next year if the current cap of $2000 on the 35% Federal tax credit is increased or removed.

Apart from these two there are hundreds of smaller private companies in the integration and installation space operating more locally. They’ll offer competition and some may emerge in time as public companies too. And there are companies like BP who design and install systems as well as manufacturing panels. But being an integrated energy company, they are more levered to oil and can not be regarded as an investment play on solar.

While wind has grown more quickly in the past few years with massive installations going up, solar is now gaining fast. A huge number of rooftops that could be collecting power across the country so the potential is truly enormous. And if the tax incentives are improved with higher or no caps then the growth in the residential market could be explosive.

Disclosure: Paulo Nery does not currently own shares of any of the companies named above.

Disclaimer: Nothing in the above article in no way constitutes a recommendation to buy or invest in these or any other stocks. You should always seek professional financial advice when planning your investments or trading in the stock markets.

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Featured Showcase Solar Company XsunX: (OTCBB: XSNX)
Based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., XsunX is developing amorphous silicon thin film photovoltaic (TFPV) solar cell manufacturing processes to produce TFPV solar modules. To deliver its products the Company has begun to build a multi- megawatt TFPV solar module production facility in the United States to meet the growing demand for solar cell products used in large scale commercial projects, utility power fields, and other on-grid applications. Employing a phased roll out of production capacity, it plans to grow manufacturing capacities to over 100 megawatts by 2010. More info on XsunX, Inc. can be found on our media profile at: http://www.investorideas.com/co/xsnx/default.asp or http://www.xsunx.com/ .


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1 comment:

Mahmoud said...

Maybe renewable energy sector will help ease the economic problems we're facing now, in terms of creating new jobs and lessing dependence on fossil fuels