June 3, 2009

Despite Global Crisis, Solar Companies Remain Optimistic

Solar power leaders remain hopeful in what could be a huge upturn in U.S. solar demand, but continue to be careful about the rest of 2009 after being hit very hard from the global credit predicament.

"The prospects for 2010 and beyond are quite significant," Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd Chief Strategy Officer Steven Chan said at the Reuters Global Energy Summit. "Next year, I wouldn't be surprised if the U.S. market tripled off of this year."

The solar industry was practically untouched by the economic woes until late 2008, when money for several kinds of projects evaporated.

That lack of money plus a reduction in solar tax breaks in Spain caused a rise of solar panels available for purchase, bringing prices down and diminishing producers' profits.

However, Chan and Tom Werner, the leader of U.S. rival SunPower, see optimistic signs in the credit market and in U.S. policies that employ the renewable energy.

Chan anticipates that the solar market in the US will be lifeless in 2009 when evaluated against 2008. Concurrently, Suntech will be expecting to double its U.S. share 20% this year from 10% in 2008.

The federal stimulus package has by now aided in bettering attitude in the market, Werner noted, although he does not think that those monies will be sent to the company's bottom line until "the back half of the year, perhaps Q4." He anticipates a bigger impact in 2010.

Energy Conversion Devices Inc CEO Mark Morelli remains more restrained in his prediction for the U.S. solar market, insisting that entr©e to project monies is still insufficient and government stimulus funds have not yet reached them.

"It's marginally better," said Morelli. "The issue is really the pace by which things are moving. It's very slow. The U.S. market in particular is very slow."

However, Morelli did say he was "a bit optimistic" about 2010.

"We don't know when the financing will come back; we just hope it will come back," he said.

Suntech stated that it was looking for $200 million or $500 million from Chinese banks to finance solar projects.

"They are now open to funding for overseas projects and overseas trade finance," Chan said of the discussions. "It's just a question of their due diligence and getting them comfortable with the projects."


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