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If there's one major theme that's driven the solar industry's growth over the past decade, it's been falling costs. Solar companies have been able to lower the cost to make solar panels, and developers have reduced the cost of everything from racking to the labor to install solar panels.
Falling cost isn't just the theme of the solar industry this decade, it's the theme of solar this week.
Solar costs are getting ridiculously low
A new report from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that utility scale solar has fallen to $1.42 per watt for a fixed tilt system and $1.49 per watt for a single axis tracker. To put the rapid cost reduction into perspective, utility solar projects cost $4.80 per watt in early 2010.
The elusive $1 per watt mark was the goal of the Obama Administration's SunShot initiative launched in 2011. But they were hoping to hit $1 per watt by 2020. It looks like the industry will pass that with two or three years to spare at the rate costs are falling.
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First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) has said that it will reach $1 per watt in 2017, which will set it up well to compete in the global solar market. And with the ability to lower costs beyond the panel, a holistic approach to cutting costs will be key to keeping companies like First Solar growing.
Mexico gets another round of cheap solar
Less than 6 months after getting 1.8 GW of solar energy for $0.057 per kWh, Mexico did another energy auction and got bids for 2.9 GW of solar for just $0.033 per kWh. Previous winners SunPower and Canadian Solar didn't show up this round, but Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL) partnered on projects that will account for 100 MW of solar.
Most bids came from independent energy companies, not solar companies, meaning there's still opportunities for solar manufacturers to win business. What was surprising is that bids for the projects were so low. Any additions for location or other incentives aren't built into the three cent price, but at that rate it's hard to see how winners of the bids are going to make much money, even if solar projects are being built for close to $1 per watt.
Solar partnerships are getting silly
If you want to know how desperate residential solar companies have gotten to sell solar systems, you just need to look at two recent partnerships that have formed. Clearview Energy has partnered with Hulu to bundle solar energy with streaming TV, and Geostellaris getting Uber to sell solar to riders in a few cities around the country.
SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY) has used some interesting partnerships with Home Depot and Best Buy, but there have at least been weak ties between solar and construction and electronics. And part of the thesis with Tesla Motors buying SolarCity is the cross-sell of solar with electric vehicles.
Selling solar is hard, with telemarketing and door-to-door sales long being prominent sales methods. Partnerships have started to play a larger roll, but selling in Uber seems like a huge stretch, as does Hulu. Maybe this is a sign that installers are scraping to find ways to reach customers now that the low hanging fruit has already gone solar.
News and notes
There were also a few notable news items from around the solar industry.
JA Solar (NASDAQ: JASO) said it will withdraw from the EU's price undertaking, an alternative to tariffs the EU put on Chinese solar panels. The company said it has enough manufacturing capacity outside of China to serve the EU's needs. This is the risk with tariffs on companies today -- there are easy ways to get around them.
SolarCity announced $347 million in financing this week, which will help pay for solar projects. One of the challenges SolarCity has had so far this year is bleeding money because its financing wasn't able to pay for all of its costs. The company may be turning around that narrative.
Canadian Solar (NASDAQ: CSIQ) announced a 100 MW power purchase agreement with MCE, a California community choice aggregation program. With large solar projects hard to come by, signing a project this large is a good sign for the solar developer.
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Travis Hoium owns shares of First Solar. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends SolarCity. 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.