This Week in Solar

By Travis Hoium Markets Fool.com

Earnings season for the fourth quarter of 2016 is largely behind us in the solar industry, but the battle for the future of solar continues. And in a year when many are predicting a decrease in global demandfor solar panels and pressure on the solar policy environment in the U.S., the negative earnings trends can cast a shadow on the industry.

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But there were some positive trends for the solar industry last week and investors may need to start taking a more bullish view of the industry. In particular, if grassroots driven policy can work in the favor of solar energy there could be a brighter future than investors currently think. Here are the notable items for the week.

Carports like this one for SunPower are gaining traction in 2017. Image source: SunPower.

Big-time solar tenders this week

SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) kicked off the week by winning 31% of a 500 MW tender process in France for large-scale solar power projects. The company said it will sell 130 MW of E-Series solar panels for 25 ground mount and carport solar projects. France is one of the markets where SunPower has said it will do self-development and it's home to its parent company,Total (NYSE: TOT), so take this as a small sign that SunPower's high-efficiency products are generating some business in developed countries like France and the U.S.

Hanwha Q Cells also said that a consortium it is involved in won a 1 GW tender to build a power plant in Turkey. The company's solar panels will be used in the plant, meaning nearly a quarter's worth of capacity was allocated in a single project.

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Rather than being driven by feed-in tariffs that result in uncontrolled installations, countries are moving to these auction and tender processes that allocate projects to winning bids. For manufacturers, this brings some certainty to the business and these were two big wins this week.

Policy update

While renewable energy seems to be negative on the federal level in 2017, the state and local story is increasingly positive. One major turnaround is Nevada, where a bill that would expand access with community solarwas introduced in the legislature. After the Public Utilities Commission essentially killed the rooftop solar industry with a last-minute deal in 2015, the industry has come back in force with a reversal of some of the 2015 rules, a ballot referendum that will end NV Energy's monopoly, and potentially a bill that will expand community solar. When rubber meets the road the solar industry has a lot of support.

Another effort to reduce net metering in Minnesota was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton this week. The bill would have exempted municipal utilities from the Public Utilities Commission's jurisdiction to resolve net metering disputed, effectively giving them more power to make solar uneconomical for rural customers. For a state that's hoping to make community solar a big part of the energy future, this is a big win for solar.

These may seem like small wins for the solar industry, but had anti-solar policy prevailed, the powerful fossil fuel lobby would have likely pushed quickly across the country . This will push back the forces against solar a bit and give the industry a little more momentum.

News and notes

Here are a few random news items for the week:

As solar energy spreads across the world, some surprising countries are planning to expand into solar. This week, Afghanistan's government approved a plan for 100 MW of renewables, including 65 MW of solar, on its way to 500 MW of solar by 2020. With 60% of the country living without reliable electricity, solar could bring a valuable resource to the country.

Energy storage company Sunverge released an announcement this week that it's been working for six months to build the world's largest residential virtual power plant. One thousand homes in Australia will participate and Sunverge will provide controls for the battery systems in the homes as well as the virtual power plant software. Making energy storage in the home could be a very valuable piece of the future of solar energy and Sunverge could play a big role, along with its solar partner SunPower.

Finally, yieldco 8point3 Energy Partners (NASDAQ: CAFD) announced a 3% increase in its dividend this week to $0.2565 per share for the first quarter of 2017. The dividend will be paid on April 14 to shareholders of record on April 4.

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Travis Hoium owns shares of 8point3 Energy Partners, SunPower, and Total. The Motley Fool recommends Total. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.