February 14, 2008 in Business

Sun shining on solar industry

Chris Kahn Associated Press

PHOENIX — The solar power industry is experiencing a surge on Wall Street despite fears of a recession as some companies increase production, cut costs and vow to be competitive with conventional electricity in the next few years.

On Wednesday, Phoenix-based solar modules maker First Solar Inc. said its fourth-quarter earnings skyrocketed as the company boosted production. It posted earnings of $62.9 million, or 77 cents per share. Revenue almost quadrupled to $200.8 million, from $52.7 million in the 2006 period.

Other solar-power stocks followed its lead. Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. rose 17 percent, JA Solar Holdings Co. rose 17 percent, Canadian Solar Inc. rose 13 percent, and Evergreen Solar Inc. rose 12 percent.

“Our 2007 results increased our position as the low-cost leader in the industry and brought us closer to achieving price points that make solar electricity viable,” without significant government subsidies, First Solar chief executive Mike Ahearn said in a conference call with analysts.

Solar power still amounts to less than 1 percent of the total generated electricity in the U.S. through October 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration. But analysts say to expect its share to rise as governments look to reduce their dependence on foreign energy while dealing with higher prices for traditional power sources.

Worldwide concern over global climate change also has fueled a tremendous amount of support for renewable energy sources like solar, said John Hardy, an analyst with American Technology Research.

“Ten years ago, green was sort of the idea of a few tree huggers in Northern California,” Hardy said. “Now, being green has taken on a more widespread appeal.”

In the United States, new solar power installations rose from 49 megawatts in 2002 to 314 megawatts last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. One megawatt is enough to power 778 average homes, according to the Energy Department.

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