There’s nothing like impending doom to focus the mind. And we may be seeing some of that as the efforts to clean-up the spewing oil from the explosion at the Macondo well owned and operated by BP plc (NYSE:BP). US Senators Kerry and Lieberman today introduced their climate bill, the American Power Act, for consideration in the Senate and it includes a number of proposal to reduce carbon emissions and develop US solutions in clean energy use. We wanted to review the potential benefits for several U.S. companies in different clean energy solutions: First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR), Ocean Power Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ:OPTT), SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWRA), Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ: ENER), GT Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: SOLR), Real Goods Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:RSOL), Zoltek Companies, Inc. (NASDAQ: ZOLT), FuelCell Energy, Inc. (NASDAQ: FCEL), Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (NASDAQ: CLNE), and American Superconductor Corp. (NASDAQ: AMSC).
The spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico and its threat to the Gulf’s fishing grounds put into sharp relief the thin line between the US demand for energy and the country’s demand for food and a clean, safe environment. Those technologies and companies that reduce these threats could get a significant boost from the harm that the Gulf oil spill is wreaking on the environment.
Photovoltaic solar maker First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) has battled oversupply and lower demand for the past year, but the company reported a stellar first quarter and its acquisition of NextLight Renewable Power gives it a solid backlog of projects going forward. The expected decline in demand from Germany resulting from a cut in the country’s feed-in tariff is currently depressing solar makers’ share prices, but that cut is not likely to have a severe or lasting impact on PV installations in Germany or the rest of Europe. First Solar is well-positioned to take advantage of a growing PV market.
Wave technology pioneer Ocean Power Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: OPTT) is currently building a 500-watt power-generating buoy with help from a grant from the US Department of Energy. The company’s buoys harness wave action and convert it to electricity. Ocean Power is not the only company working on this technology, but it was the first and it is still the only publicly traded company in the business.
SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWRA) manufactures a variety of solar PV products using polysilicon wafers. The company has had its ups and downs in the past year, but is suffering now from margin compression and a pushing out of orders to the second half of the year. The company has been a solid low-cost provider of polysilicon-based PV solar devices and, even though it is struggling now, it’s future should brighten as demand for PV solar grows.
Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ: ENER) is another thin-film solar PV maker that has fallen victim to delayed orders. The company is expecting to turn the corner later this year. All the solar companies face the difficult situation of reducing production costs while at the same time maintaining margins. If prices fall too fast as costs decline, margins get squeezed and that his what has happened to ECD and SunPower. But, like all other alternative energy companies, ECD could get a significant boost as public reaction to the oil spill could lead to the adoption of policies that support the development and installation of alt energy.
GT Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: SOLR) builds that machines that solar PV makers use to produce wafers, cells, and modules. Its fortunes have followed the solar companies, but GT is working on new technology to reduce the cost of making raw polysilicon. As demand for solar panels grows, manufacturing capacity will grow right along with it, and that’s good for GT.
For a company like Real Goods Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: RSOL), which offers integration services to residential and commercial customers, the lower prices for PV solar and more generous support from government offer a chance to boost revenues and margins. The company even offers a pre-built solar home for $95,000-$120,000 in its most recent catalog. It may take a while for that idea to catch on, but offering turnkey solutions to consumers at a reasonable price is a good long-term strategy.
Zoltek Companies, Inc. (NASDAQ: ZOLT) participates in the expanding market for wind power generation, making the carbon fibers used in building wind turbines. Demand from the company’s largest company, and world’s largest producer of advanced wind turbines, Vestas Systems of Denmark has picked up again and is expected to continue through the rest of this year.
FuelCell Energy, Inc. (NASDAQ:FCEL) uses of natural gas to power its fuel cells makes it attractive to businesses and utilities looking to boost renewable portfolio generation. The company just won a contract with the state of California to install 5.6 megawatts of fuel cell power plants at four state universities. The plants will use waste heat and water from electricity generation to heat swimming pools and irrigate landscaping.
For the past year or so, Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (NASDAQ: CLNE) and its founder, T. Boone Pickens, have been touting the advantages of natural gas as a transportation fuel. The company is building out a refueling infrastructure, a very risky proposition indeed. However, the low cost of natural gas, its seeming abundance, and the fact that natural gas reducing carbon emissions by about a third from gasoline all work in this company’s favor. Plus, having Pickens out in front guarantees that Clean Fuels will get noticed.
American Superconductor Corp. (NASDAQ:AMSC) supplies wind turbine technology and control systems. The company recently increased its guidance for the rest of 2010 on revenues and margins. Because wind power is the alternative energy of choice in many parts of the world, American Semi is on a path to solid growth even beyond this year.
The opportunities in the alternative energy field vary, of course, but wind should continue to be strong and solar should strengthen as public demand for cleaner energy sources grows following the disaster in the Gulf. Whether or not these companies can seize the day will likely be on a case by case basis. Some have not performed well and some face continued pressures ahead. Maybe these companies have an edge for more projects similar to when oil was well above $100.00 as raw cost comparisons may not be the only measurement ahead. Opportunity is there.