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Light Shines on Solar Stocks

Today, solar stocks found new highs and incredible one-day gains on news of new production contracts by First Solar, Inc.

Thin-film solar panel manufacturer First Solar Inc. announced five new contracts totaling $1.28 billion in revenue. Shares of the company hit an all-time high today at $115.87, for a one-day increase of $19.50, representing a 20% gain in heavy volume trading. Shares of First Solar have nearly quintupled since shares started trading in November of 2006.

The new contracts for First Solar constitute 685 MW worth of solar modules for EDF Energies Nouvelles, Sechilienne-Sidec, RIO Energie GmbH & Co. KG and SunEdison LLC.

First Solar’s sales grew from 146% to 392% year over year the past four quarters. Earnings rose 188% to 220% the past three quarters. The company beat analysts’ profit estimates by 100% and 271% the past two quarters.

First Solar also announced the approval of constructions plans for a new plant in Malaysia that will add 120 MW of production capcity per year.

Elsewhere in the solar sector:

JA Solar shares rose $5.51, or 14.8 percent, to $42.76.
Suntech stock gained $1.57, or 4.1 percent, to $39.56.
Solarfun Power Holdings Co. Ltd. shares added $1.28, or 11.4 percent, to $12.53.
Shares of Evergreen Solar Inc. were up 59 cents, or 6.1 percent, to $10.27.
Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. Ltd. moved up $2.46, or 15.9 percent, to $17.96.
LDK Solar Co. Ltd. stock advanced $2.84, or 8.5 percent, to $36.37.

Google Deploys 1.6 MW Solar Installation

Today, Google reports the successful completion of their 1.6 MW solar installation at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California (near San Jose).

In total 9,212 modules (rated at 208-watts each and provided by Sharp) provide approximately 30% of Google’s peak electricity demad, roughtly equvalent to the energy required to run 1,000 California homes. For potential bragging rights, Google’s system is now the largest solar installation on any corporate campus in the U.S. to date.

But wait, there’s more…

The project also includes solar panels have also been installed atop the company carports to serve as charging stations for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Google’s so-called RechargeIt.org program is a partnership between Google and A123 Systems/Hymotion to convert the company’s fleet of hybrid cars into plug-in hybrids, among which the Toyata Prius earns a respectable 73.6 MPG.

From the Google blog:

By accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrids and vehicle-to-grid (“V2G”) technologies, this new project, RechargeIT.org, aims to reduce emissions and dependence on oil while promoting clean energy technologies and increasing consumer choice.

As additional icing on the cake, Google set up a performance monitoring site to report the day-to-day production of their solar electricity generation system.

CitizenRe – free solar installations at what cost?

The CitizenRe Corporation, a new “no money down” solar manufacturer and installation company based out of Wilmington, Delaware, has set out to provide free residential solar installations, provided consumers are willing to pay the company a locked in rate for the energy provided by the Citizenre-owned installation.

Although CitizenRe is not the first company to offer such a plan, the company has ignited quite a bit of discussion in the blogosphere, with some pointing out the stink of multi-level marketing (aka “pyramid scheme”) while others have provided analysis that seems to invalidate the current pricing model proposed by CitizenRe. Furthermore, the company seems to have oversold its contracts, with “Ecopreneurs” (CitizenRe’s sales force or MLM workers) selling contracts that will allegedly fall short of the stated September 2007 instalation date.

Amidst the Internet buzz on CitizenRe’s business plan and marketing tactics, the company’s strategic discussions have recently been leaked in a memo detailing “Excessive unethical behavior driven by lack of training, skewed incentives, and lack of controls”.

Given the mis-steps by CitizenRe’s and its Ecopreneurs, one should not dismiss the business plan as a whole, as several other companies offer similar plans sans the uproar. Will these and other companies find a way to offer the “free installation” model on a large scale, thus creating a national grid of mini solar power stations under one “utility” provider? Or will informed consumers prefer to incur the materials and installation costs on their own?

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