Last Week in Solar

By Markets Fool.com

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What could have been a quiet week ahead of a flood of earnings turned out to be a meaningful news week for investors. Bullish news out of China combined with some positive news in Latin America and in a surprising location in the U.S. Here's what you need to know about last week in solar.

China's solar market is huge

Data out of China released over the past week indicates that 20 gigawatts of solar was installed in the country in the first half of 2016. That compares to 43 gigawatts of total solar installations at the end of 2015 and global solar installations of 59 gigawatts last year. China may have already reached its 18.1 gigawatt goal for this year.

The Chinese market is a big question mark for investors right now because it could be temporarily raising demand for solar panels ahead of price reductions in the second half of the year. The 20 gigawatt number is huge, but if it leads to China cutting solar feed-in tariff rates or curtailing connecting projects to the grid, it could lead to a massive shock to the market later this year and into 2017. Stay tuned to see where the market goes in China.

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Georgia bets big on solar

One of the shocking numbers out last week is that Georgia Power, the Southern Company (NYSE: SO) subsidiary, committed to building 1.6 gigawatts of renewable energy in 2018-2020. Most of that is expected to be solar power, given the technology's cost-effectiveness in the state.

What's incredible is the sheer size of the agreement. In 2015, the entire country installed 7.3 gigawatts of solar and Georgia installed just 209 megawatts, according to GTM Research. So, 1.6 gigawatts is a huge step forward for Georgia.

We don't know all of the details, but given the scale and the tie to Southern Company, I would expect First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) and SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) to win a significant amount of business from the utility. Both have sold projects to Southern Company before and have large market shares in the U.S., so Georgia could now be a growth market for them.

The growing love of solar

Internationally, Portugal said that 2.1 gigawatts of capacity were being processed, which could lead to a huge jump in the country's solar market. Only about half a gigawatt is currently in operation, and much of that was built under a highly subsidized market years ago.

Last week, Argentina published rules for a 1 gigawatt renewable energy auction, of which at least 300 megawatts will be solar. The bids will be awarded in October and must be completed in less than two years.

Again, First Solar and SunPower have been two of the most active participants in the Latin America market, so they could benefit from the auction. And with uncertainty in the U.S. and China in 2017, the region could be a key source of demand.

Earnings season begins

This week, solar earnings season really begins, with First Solar reporting on Wednesday. SunPower reports the following week, and between the two we should get a feel for where the market is headed in the back half of 2016 and into 2017. Check back to fool.com for coverage as these earnings reports come out.

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Travis Hoium owns shares of First Solar and SunPower. The Motley Fool recommends Southern Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.