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3 Recommendations

A Rising Sun?

By Jack Uldrich
December 15, 2006

Nanosolar, a privately funded solar energy company, announced this week that it had secured 647,000 square feet of manufacturing space in San Jose. This is noteworthy because a facility that size will have the ability to produce an annual capacity of 430 megawatts' worth of solar power -- or three times the amount that is presently installed in the U.S.

If Nanosolar's technology can scale to this level, it could become a major player in the solar industry. Moreover, because it employs a new thin-film technology that uses little to no silicon -- the costliest part of solar cells -- it might even allow it to become the dominant player in the field because the technology is so disruptive.

To date, the company has received venture funding from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and this past summer it received an additional $75 million to begin building this facility. (It also signed an agreement with Coenergy, one of Europe's solar companies, in August to help develop its technology.)

So, is Nanosolar's success guaranteed? No. For starters, many of today's leading solar companies, such as BPSolar (NYSE: BP), Kyocera (NYSE: KYO), and SunTech Power (NYSE: STP), are all continuing to produce more efficient silicon solar cells. As such, they are unlikely to either be easily replaced or to go down without a serious fight.

Secondly, many of these companies, as well as Sharp, EnergyConversion Devices' (NASDAQ: ENER) Uni-Solar, Miasole, and Harris & Harris' (NASDAQ: TINY) portfolio company, Innovalight, are all in various stages of developing their own thin-film technology which, in some cases, may be closer to development.

And lastly, Nanosolar could encounter any number of bumps in ramping up its thin-film technology -- which remains untested in a large-scale manufacturing process.

Still, everything from the funding to the securing of the manufacturing space seems to suggest that things are coming together nicely for Nanosolar. For this reason, I believe it is a company that investors who are interested in solar energy need to put on their radar screen.

I say this not because I believe it will go public anytime soon and would represent a good buy (although it might), but rather because thin-film technology is a disruptive technology and a facility of this size could cause some serious problems for many of today's leading publicly traded solar companies. After all, the sun has been known to burn people on occasion. There's no reason that it can't do the same to investors.

Interested in other solar Foolishness?

Check out these articles:

SunTech Power and Harris & Harris are both Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Keep tabs on big events in tiny technology with a free 30-day trial subscription to the newsletter.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich always recommends using sunscreen when playing in the sun for more than 15 minutes. He owns stock in SunTech Power. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.

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DocumentId: 518160, ~/articles/articlehandler.aspx, 12/17/2006 3:19:49 PM

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