"Keep your face to the sunshine..." -- Helen Keller
No matter where you look, alternative energy is the topic du jour. Driven by the economics of record-high crude oil, the spotlight is shifting to non-traditional renewable energy sources, particularly solar power.
But while solar stocks were some of the biggest gainers for much of last year, recently the solar power industry has taken big hits - with several key leaders such as First Solar (FLSR) SunPower (SPWR) and Evergreen Solar (ESLR) down as much as 50% off their 52 week highs.
To find out what's going on with solar energy and the other renewable energy sources, we recently surveyed 182 respondents working directly in the alternative energy industry.
Solar Leads - Solar energy continues to show the most momentum of all alternative energy segments, according to industry respondents. Not only has it shown strong gains since our previous survey in February 2007, but it also leads in each of the following areas:
* Most Rapid Economic Growth - Past 12 Months: When asked which alternative energy sector has experienced the fastest growth over the past year, solar energy (49%) topped the list - up a whopping 14-pts since our previous survey in February. In comparison, Biomass - including biofuels and bio-products - came in at 41%.
* Most Rapid Economic Growth - Next 12-24 Months: Going forward, respondents see solar energy (58%; up 20-pts) as experiencing the most rapid growth in the industry for the next one-to-two years.
* Most Momentum - Next 5 Years: Over the long term, solar energy also retains its strength, as 31% of respondents (up 5-pts) say it will be the top sector for the next half decade.
In sum, solar energy leads all of the other major alternative energy categories in terms of rapid economic growth. Solar energy is also seen as experiencing the biggest technology breakthroughs (27%; up 2-pts). But perhaps most importantly, solar cells are expected to be affordable enough to achieve a competitive return on investment within seven years (by 2015).
"Demand for solar cells is unquestionably robust, the price of oil is trending higher, and solar tax credits will likely be extended," according to ChangeWave Analyst Josh Levine. The forces are all lining up exceptionally well for the solar industry. It's the right time for investors to be exposed to the sun and invest in solar stocks."
According to solar industry experts, the sector's growth is being propelled forward by global photovoltaics manufacturers like First Solar (FSLR), SunPower Corp. (SPWR) and SunTech Power Holdings (STP) - companies that have developed superior business models and excelled in project management.
Levine adds that the next big challenge for the solar industry is the scaling of production facilities for mass production at the gigawatt level. "The next generation of leaders will be those companies that are best equipped to leverage the latest innovations in materials research through manufacturing know-how," he said.
Clearly, solar energy has the momentum in our latest ChangeWave survey. We'll continue tracking solar energy and other non-traditional energy sources in the alternative energy industry for new opportunities in 2008
The ChangeWave expert research network is composed of 15,000 highly qualified professionals. Members are surveyed weekly on a range of topics, and ChangeWave converts the findings into proprietary reports. Visit our website for additional ChangeWave Solar Findings and ChangeWave Technology alerts.