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The Year of Thin Film Photovoltaics - 2007

By Peter Lynch
Exclusively for InvestorIdeas.com
April 02, 2007

The renewable energy area has always had “great potential”, but since I have been following the industry (1977), very little of this immense potential has been realized.

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With the turn of the new century, things also began to change for renewables:

  • The words – “Global Warming” began to slowly but surely appear in the press
  • Prominent geologists started to talk about – “Peak Oil” and the inevitability of its coming, possibly much sooner than most realize.
  • Countries around the world, principally Japan and Germany, began to implement creative incentives for clean green power
  • Individual states such as California and New Jersey began to move toward the “Green Path” refusing to wait for the Federal Government to stop “talking” and start “doing” something.
  • Military and political thinkers started to view our energy dependence as a very serious threat to national security and the root cause of many of our problems

In other words, we entered the 21 st Century on a small but growing “Green Wave” of recognition that it was very different this time around. Finally it appeared that the time for renewables has come and that the light at the end of the tunnel was NOT an oncoming fossil fuel powered train, but the SUN.

Wall Street Recognition

Wall Street is always looking for the next “big thing” and as the call for renewables grew louder, Wall Street started to play attention. Things started to happen and before anyone realized, solar related stocks were becoming the darlings of Wall Street. The market always seems to know ahead of the general media and once the papers start to talk about a subject, many of the stronger players in that field have already had significant moves.

Without question, 2005 could have been called, “The Year of Solar Stocks”. Solar stocks outperformed the average NASDAQ stock by an amazingly wide margin - almost 100 fold greater. Certainly the solar sector of the market was the place to be in 2005.

  • Average Gain for US solar stocks in 2005 = +134%
  • NASDAQ Gain in 2005 = +1.37%

Last year 2006, was the beginning of a significant ramp up in solar financings and solar IPO’s and more importantly, it marked the beginning of serious financial resources coming into the solar industry which will allow the industry to continue and even expand its current robust growth . In fact, 2006 could be called, “The Year of the Solar IPO”, with IPO companies coming from all points on the globe - U.S., Europe and China. I see this surge in IPO’s continuing in 2007 and beyond. This industry has incredible growth ahead of it and will need adequate funding to fuel its growth.

With all of this booming growth and activity in 2005 and 2006, what is left for the current year - 2007?

2007 Pivotal Moment in Renewable Industry History

I think that 2007 may mark a very significant chapter in the history of the renewable energy industry - the beginning of the transition from the current dominant technology – crystalline silicon, to the “next generation” PV technology, photovoltaic thin film technologies.

What are Thin Film Technologies?

Thin Film are various technologies that have been underdevelopment for the past 15 to 20 years that utilize very small amounts of specialized materials to create solar panels that have the potential to produce power significantly cheaper than today’s standard silicon technology. The panels are usually made in the form of a monolithic piece of glass, upon which various thin films are deposited, although a number of firms are working on depositing the materials on a flexible substrate, such as stainless steel or plastic.

Types of Thin Film Technology – there are primarily three types of thin film technologies that have each been researched for over 15 years and are current focus of the solar industry:

  1. Amorphous Silicon (a-Si)
  2. Cadmium Telluride (CdTe)
  3. Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS)

Amorphous Silicon had the largest share of the thin film market as of the end of 2005. It has been researched for the longest period of time, may be the best understood material of the three and has been commercial for the longest. Cadmium Telluride has the remaining share of the market and is ramping up very rapidly, with Copper Indium Gallium Selenide having a negligible share of the thin film market, with great potential, but is the least understood and least developed of the three materials.

Advantages of Thin Film Technologies over Conventional Crystalline Silicon

  • Lower cost of production than conventional silicon processes
  • Lower production facility cost per watt - CapEx
  • Uses far less material, as little as 1/500 th the amount used in standard silicon cells
  • Lower energy payback – amount of time until the product produces more energy than was utilized in its manufacture.
  • Produces more useable power per rated watt
  • Superior performance in hot and overcast climates.
  • Ability to be attractively integrated into buildings – Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)
  • Produces the lowest cost power

Thin Film Publicly Traded Stocks

There are a number of public companies that are working in the area of photovoltaic thin films. But the majority of these companies do not have thin film as their primary business. As a result, I will divide them into two groups:

  • Thin Film Pure Plays

These are companies whose primary business is thin film Photovoltaics

  • Thin Film Related Companies

These are companies that have a division in thin film, an investment in a thin film development company or internal R&D focused on thin film.

Pure Plays

  • First Solar, Inc. - NASDAQ - symbol FSLR
  • DayStar Technologies, Inc. – NASDAQ - symbol DSTI
  • Power Film, Inc. – London AIM Exchange - symbol PFLM-L

Sampling of Some Thin Film Related Companies

  • Applied Materials, NASDAQ - AMAT
  • Energy Conversion Devices, NASDAQ - ENER
  • Ersol Solar Energy AG, Frankfurt Exchange - ES6-F
  • Q-cells, Frankfurt Exchange – QCE-F
  • Solon AG Fuer Solartechnik, Frankfurt Exchange - SOO1-F
  • Suntech, NYSE - STP

Note: These are not all the companies in the world working on thin film technologies. However, they are some of the public companies who have made significant comments in their annual reports concerning their work in thin film and consider it to be a key part of their future expansion strategy.

What to look for in future - thin film pure plays, like First Solar (FSLR) coming public.

THE FUTURE OF SOLAR IS COMING and it is called THIN FILM PHOTOVOLTAICS!

J. Peter Lynch has worked, for 30 years as a Wall Street analyst, an independent equity analyst and private investor, and a merchant banker in small emerging technology companies. He has been actively involved in following developments in the renewable energy sector since 1977and is regarded as an expert in this area. He is currently a financial and technology consultant to a number of companies. He can be reached via e-mail at Solarjpl@aol.com.

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