Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Solar Energy thrives in the shade ?

That's essentially the hypothesis which Jim Jubak makes on MSN money. His column posted yesterday makes the case that US energy policy largely ignores solar energy, and that in turn will boost prospects for solar energy and for investors in solar energy companies ! Intrigued ? - I certainly was. I really enjoy reading Jubak's column. He translates complex economic theories into simple language and his stock picks aren't bad either :-)

In any case, the argument he makes is as follows. Today, solar energy is silicon wafer supply constrained. Worldwide solar power production climbed only 13% in 2007 compared to 57% in 2004 and 35% in 2006. Much of the demand today is driven by countries such as Spain, Portugal, Germany and others which offer subsidies. If the US too had offered subsidies, the excess demand would have pushed the price of solar power up even more. Hence the solar energy industry is better off now without US subsidies :-)

He further notes that the silicon shortage has had the effect of bringing many more companies into the solar panel business and has driven existing companies to expand their production. This in turn will increase silicon production 40 to 50% in 2008 and 2009. Solar cell efficiencies are also expected to increase. Maybe pure silicon alternatives from the likes of Nanosolar and others will also hit the market in this time frame ?

If the price of energy from fossil fuels continues to rise, they will soon reach parity with solar power and that would touch off a real boom in solar energy. This is projected to be in the 2012-2013 time frame. A most excellent theory from the perspective of all the solar energy companies and solar investors :-)

However, I am not sure that the assumption that the price of energy from conventional sources will continue to rise monotonically is a given. This is the only problem I see with the theory, though. This may somewhat affect the equation and timeframe, but overall its still good news for solar, unless oil prices drop dramatically.

Jubak goes on to pick some solar stocks which will benefit from this trend and interestingly they are all non-Silicon Valley companies. However, I will venture a guess that there will be a few companies from the Valley to pick from soon, given the attention the Silicon Valley technology industry and VCs are paying to alternative energy. :-)


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