The blockbuster for me in President Obama?s budget speech on Monday was his suggestion that the 30% alternative energy investment tax credit be made permanent. All solar stocks, including front-runners Solar City (SCTY), Sun Edison (SUNE), and SunPower (SPWR), rocketed on the news.
Now slated to expire at the end of 2017, the tax break is credited with igniting a solar building boom in recent years. Solar panels are becoming commonplace on roofs in better off residential neighborhoods across the country.
They are becoming so pervasive that they are changing the market for electricity beyond all recognition in lead states like California. The afternoon demand spike, once a regular feature of power management, is rapidly disappearing as consumers now sell excess peak electricity back to utilities at favorable rates.
Of course, this is all wishful thinking on the part of Obama, who couldn?t get a Republican led congress to agree with him on what day it is. Still, it has been outlined a priority with the administration, and could be a bargaining chip used in some broader tax compromise with the opposition.
And where President Obama mail fail, a future President Hillary may succeed.
Indeed, there has recently been an onslaught of good news showering the solar industry. China has announced a 43% increase in its installed solar base, an increase of 15 gigawatts. At the very least, this will divert cheap Chinese made panels from flooding the US market, the recent punitive import duty notwithstanding.
A 15% rally in the price of oil over the past three trading days has also provided a major assist. Solar actually has nothing to do with the price of oil. Its main competitor is the retail cost of electricity, which is driven by future capital spending budgets of local utilities. That has costs rising as far as the eye can see, as the industry replaces aging, 100 year old infrastructure.
The market sees it otherwise, which lumps all energy firms in the same category, be they oil, fracking, natural gas, coal, or even nuclear. Whether it makes sense or not, solar stocks are still tarred by the price of oil. Check out the charts below, and you find a correlation that is almost perfect.
The great irony in the president?s proposal is that solar is now profitable even without the tax breaks. They just provide the juice to accelerate widespread solar adoption.
I think solar is one of a handful of industries that could generate a tenfold return over the coming decade. Costs are plummeting, profit margins are expanding, and the overall market size is growing by leaps and bounds.
The fact that you can buy them now 40% off of their recent peaks is a gift. A $30 recovery in the price of oil could bring a 40% recovery in the shares of the oil majors. It could deliver a ten bagger for solar companies.
Let me pass on a little tidbit I picked up from Solar City a few weeks ago. By the end of this year, used Tesla Model S-1 batteries will become available in large numbers for the first time, including my own. (SCTY) plans to offer these for sale to their customers as backup batteries for home use. One battery can store three days worth of normal power consumption. This would make customers totally independent of the power grid.
No mention has been made of prices. My guess is that since these lithium ion batteries cost $30,000 new, a second hand one should come out at $10,000. These will still have 80% of their original capacity, not enough for a long-range car, but plenty for home storage.
For more depth on Solar City, please refer to my recent piece, ?Loading the Boat with Solar City? by clicking here.