Well here we are, just a day or two after checking out Robert Hsu’s latest solar teaser and we’ve got another one for solar. No surprise, I suppose, when oil seems permanently stuck over $80 a barrel it’s certainly true that solar and all other alternative energy plays are getting even more attention than they had previously enjoyed.
But anyway, this one is from Jeff Siegel for Agora’s Green Chip Stocks, and it’s got a very scientific sounding opening:
“Using a source officially discovered by NASA in 1978, a small California company has perfected a way to harness the ‘Earth’s Energy Budget,’ which NASA has measured at 174 Petawatts per day.”
That “Earth’s Energy Budget” business, as you may not know, is just the sum total of all the solar radiation that enters the earth’s atmosphere. And much of that 174 Petawatts does indeed hit the surface of the planet, though harnessing even a measurable percentage of that is of course an entirely different story.
Jeff notes that 1 Petawatt is enough to run New York City for more than 10 years, just to give you some idea of the scale.
But back to our clues — we’re looking for “Endless Energy: The tiny stock that’ll bring it to every home.”
This company sells what they call “Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPVs)”, which in essence are photovoltaic cells that, instead of being built into big frames and covered with glass, like traditional solar panels, are integrated into building products. So they sell membrane roofs that have solar panels built in, flush with the surface, and roofing tiles that are each little individual solar panels that I suppose must be wired together into some kind of system.
And that may indeed be enough to solve our teaser — there aren’t a lot of companies doing that. But let’s look at a couple other clues:
They have a market cap of about $55 million, and a share price of about 45 cents. He also talks about oil trading at $73 a barrel, so we know the ad is a little bit long in the tooth.
He compares this company to other firms that have had “disruptive” new technology in the solar energy arena, like First Solar.
And he talks about other things that will push the share price higher — an extension (he mentions eight years, which is what the solar industry has been pushing for a couple years) of the tax credits for solar installations, and the higher fossil fuel prices that should hit home over the next cold winter. The tax credits, as far as the latest info I read, currently expire at the end of 2008.
So what company are we talking about here?
The Gumshoe provides, of course: This little firm is …
Open Energy Corporation (OEGY, traded over the counter)
The shares have climbed a bit since this teaser was first written apparently — they’ll now cost you fifty cents a pop, and the market cap has climbed to $60 million from $55.
Which is, of course, immaterial if the company is really going to “profit more than almost any other solar manufacturer on the planet,” as Jeff tells us.
Right now, they’ve got a lot more debt than cash, they’re trading for about 12 or 13 times book value and annual sales. They’re very unprofitable and I don’t know what it will take to make them profitable, or even to bring in positive cash flow, but their sales have jumped about 200% year over year … so that’s something.
The company really does build BIPVs, and they do have real sales and real customers — they did indeed have installations on the Savoy Hotel in San Francisco, and at the University of Toronto, as mentioned in the teaser. They were also mentioned in a segment on the Today Show, though that was nearly a year ago — which to me makes it seem a little sad that they’re still preening with the NBC peacock on their home page. I suppose it provides some legitimacy, which always helps with an OTC microcap stock. This is the page that describes their main products, if you’re interested.
I certainly like the idea of solar power, and I noted in my teaser writeup of LDK Solar some of the concerns that I have about capacity buildout in the solar supply chain — but for the end producers, that capacity buildout should be largely positive. If they can get cheaper raw materials, that could only help.
My main fear for this particular company, aside from product-related concerns about reliability or longevity compared with traditional solar panels, is, as with so many other teaser stocks, competition. (I have no factual basis for being worried about reliability or longevity, by the way, I’m just concerned that their products look a lot less substantial than the solar panels I’m used to, which is, of course, their main selling point, too).
Beyond the fact there are many other companies that also offer solar shingles or tiles of various types for this same market (and I have no idea how this company’s products compare with their direct competitors), I would certainly also expect that the big solar cell manufacturers are also developing smaller profile, more integrated cells.
And beyond them, we also have the innovators at the other end of the spectrum — the nanotechnology solar companies that are creating really thin film solar power technologies, including a film that is sprayed or printed onto foil that would clearly leapfrog Open Energy’s technology and, if they are as successful as they believe, be much cheaper than even the big bulky solar cells.
I don’t say this to imply that this company will not be successful, or to scare you off entirely — nearly every company has competition. I just like to call attention to this a little bit, because one of the standard techniques of newsletter ad writers is to describe the massive market and get you excited about the potential, them imply that the company they’re teasing is the only one who can meet that market … which is almost never true.
In case I haven’t made myself clear, I’m no expert on solar power despite the dozens of solar teasers I’ve seen in the last few months. I certainly assume that the truly thin film producers are generally a little ways off from making a profit, and maybe their stuff won’t really work in the real world — there are certainly plenty of risks at the edge of innovation, as much as there are risks in relying on 1970s photovoltaic technology … I have no idea what the solar power industry will look like in five years, let alone 25.
So … there you have it. At least one little interesting solar cell company, which is trying to make solar power generation work better with existing building materials and techniques. Is this a stopgap, or a revolutionary development? Will their plan work, will they form a competitive and sustainable niche, and will they be able to generate a sustainable profit? I have no idea … if you think you know, please share with us.