The Alternative Energy industry is going through a recovery after absorbing the global recession and the cascading fall in global crude oil prices. Earlier this year, quite a few alternative energy companies were in the trough. Though these companies have recovered from their lows, their valuations are still significantly lower than their 52-week highs.

The growth of alternative energy companies is closely tied to the fortunes of the economy. In its latest release, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted that total U.S. electricity consumption will decline by 3.3% in 2009 before growing by 1.3% in 2010 as the improving economy coaxes a gradual recovery in electricity sales. In fiscal 2008, annual U.S. photovoltaic (PV) installed capacity grew by 63% year-over-year, bringing the cumulative installed capacity to 792MW.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) — the U.S. trade association representing close to 500 companies in the solar energy industry — Germany ranked first followed by Spain, Japan and U.S. in terms of cumulative installed solar electric power as of year-end fiscal 2008. However in fiscal 2008, Spain (2.46GW in 2008) beat Germany (1.86GW) in terms of new installations. World solar PV installations reached a record high of 5.95GW in 2008, representing growth of 110% over 2007.

According to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) — the world industry association for solar photovoltaic electricity market — the cumulative global installed PV capacity stood at almost 15GW, compared to only 9GW in 2007.


Environmental Advantage: Solar power is one of the most benign electric generation resources. Solar cells generate electricity without air or water emissions, noise, vibration, habitat impact or waste generation.

Fuel Risk Advantage: Unlike fossil and nuclear fuels, solar energy has no risk of fuel price volatility or delivery risk. Although there is variability in the amount and timing of sunlight in the day, season and year, a properly sized and configured system can be designed to be highly reliable while providing a long-term, fixed-price electric supply.

Locational Advantage: Unlike other renewable resources such as hydroelectric and wind power, solar power is generally located at a customer’s site due to the universal availability of sunlight. As a result, solar power limits the expense and energy losses associated with the transmission and distribution from large-scale electric plants to the end users. For most residential consumers seeking an environment-friendly power alternative, solar power is currently the only viable choice as it can be sourced in urban and rural environments.

Subsidy Programs: Governments, most notably that of China, have increased their financial support for solar projects. China is aiming at increasing its installed solar power capacity to 2GW by 2011 from 140MW capacity at the end of fiscal 2008. To fulfill this objective, the Chinese government offers 50% of the cost of investment of solar power projects. For solar projects in remote areas, the government subsidizes 70% of the project cost. A company under our coverage benefiting from this move includes Solarfun Power Holdings Co. Ltd. (SOLF).

Through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) passed in February 2009, the U.S. Treasury Department has implemented a program to issue cash grants in lieu of the investment tax credit for renewable energy projects. Recent focus on renewable sources will greatly benefit green crusader companies like Rentech Inc. (RTK). Also, the Department of Energy (DOE) in the U.S. has implemented a loan guarantee program to help developers obtain financing for solar power projects.


Recent Start-ups: A large number of alternative energy companies are recent start-ups with limited resources. As such, quite a few depend on their customers’ ability to finance solar projects.

Global Recession: The global economic crisis has affected alternative energy sales and earnings growth. Weakness in the debt and equity markets, for as long as it lasts, will raise costs of capital for firms in this emerging sector and may hinder project financing, working capital requirements and new research and development.

Fortune Tied to Crude: Alternative energy stock prices generally rise and fall in direct proportion to the price of crude oil. While in times of high oil prices this may present an opportunity, it also increases volatility in the sector.

Excess Capacity: Industry-wide excess solar cell and module capacity have led to stockpiling across the board. As a result, we think the performance of companies such as Evergreen Solar Inc. (ESLR), JA Solar Holdings Co Ltd. (JASO), A-Power Energy Generation System (APWR) and LDK Solar Company Ltd. (LDK) — burdened as they are with high inventory levels — will remain under pressure in the near term.

German Roll-back: Germany, one of the prime solar markets with a lucrative subsidy program, is considering a roll-back of its grants. This will affect companies such as First Solar Inc. (FSLR) and SunPower Corporation (SPWRA), who generate a substantial portion of their sales from Germany.Zacks Investment Research