How Are Major Solar Players Holding Up Amid Market Challenges?


They don’t call it a “solar roller coaster” for nothing: The industry has a long history of ups and downs, and unfortunately, a number of companies such as Sungevity, Suniva, SolarWorld AG and Ten K Solar have recently announced some major downs. However, the outlook isn’t as dark for every solar company, so it might be worth noting how other industry players are performing amid this challenging market.

In the past week or so, several prominent solar companies have released their first-quarter 2017 (Q1’17) financial results, which can serve as a helpful gauge for what’s going on at each respective firm. Below are brief summaries and links to the Q1’17 results.

First Solar: The Arizona-based vertically integrated solar company has announced some surprisingly strong Q1’17 results, given that First Solar made a tough decision last November to streamline its business. The company had launched a restructuring initiative, which included cutting its workforce by 25% and accelerating production of its Series 6 modules, but the decision appears to be paying off so far. The company recorded net sales of $892 million in Q1’17, up from $561 million in the prior quarter, and First Solar has also raised its 2017 guidance. The full results are available here.

SunPower: California-based vertically integrated company SunPower similarly launched restructuring initiatives last year, cutting at least 3,500 jobs and shuttering plants overseas. Although the company says it has met its planned first-quarter targets and remains on track with its business model transition, the company recorded a GAAP net loss of $134.5 million in Q1’17. Notably, though, SunPower majority shareholder Total is stepping in to provide some additional financial backing. The full results are available here.

Enphase Energy: The California-based micro-inverter specialist was another solar company that streamlined its business last year, making two rounds of layoffs and working to raise money. Enphase struggled a bit during Q1’17, with lower-than-expected revenue, but the company says it is confident that its ongoing restructuring efforts and upcoming product launches will lead to brighter days ahead. The full results are available here.

SolarEdge: SolarEdge Technologies, a provider of PV inverters, power optimizers and module-level monitoring services, made it through successfully last year without any restructuring efforts. In Q1’17, the company recorded strong financial results, with the CEO saying, “In a quarter where the PV market is exhibiting decline in the United States, we have increased our revenues, profitability and cashflow generation quarter-over-quarter. Much of this is attributed to increased sales in Europe and our growing worldwide geographic spread.” The full results are available here.

SMA: Citing a “difficult market environment,” Germany-based inverter manufacturer SMA Solar Technology AG recorded a decrease in sales and earnings in Q1’17. However, the company remained healthy and profitable and says the results were in line with its forecast. The full results are available here.

Sunrun: The fast-paced U.S. residential market slowed in 2016, impacting nearly all residential solar companies; in fact, Sungevity filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and divested its assets. But for Q1’17, national installer Sunrun reports growth and “positive momentum.” The California-based company recorded a 21% year-over-year rise in total deployments to 73 MW and expects to deploy another 72 MW in the second quarter, which would add up to about 15% growth in the first half of this year compared with the previous year. The full results are available here.

Vivint Solar: For its part, Utah-based Vivint Solar seems to be doing well about a year after its planned merger with now-bankrupt SunEdison fell through. The installer, which continues to expand its footprint across the U.S., reports it installed 46 MW in Q1’17 and expects to install about the same in the second quarter. The full results are available here.

SolarCity/Tesla: With a cornucopia of products including electric vehicles, batteries and – after acquiring SolarCity last year – solar, Elon Musk’s Tesla has a lot to account for. Making matters worse, the company’s Q1’17 shareholder letter doesn’t provide many specifics. The letter says that SolarCity saw a year-over-year decline in solar deployments, which totaled 150 MW, but “better financial results” in the quarter. As the letter explains, “Rather than prioritizing the growth of MW of solar deployed at any cost, we are selectively deploying projects that have higher margin and generate cash up front.” The letter is available here.

Of course, the aforementioned companies are just a few select players in the solar industry, and results are mixed. In addition, quarterly reports are only a brief glimpse of a much larger picture, and companies will need to keep working to overcome global market challenges, such as module overcapacity, pricing pressure, and policy uncertainty.

That said, let’s see how the second quarter pans out.



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