Another solar IPO… but where’s ATS and Photowatt?

First Solar of Phoenix, Ariz., has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $250 million (U.S.), which will be used to construct manufacturing facilities in Germany and Asia for thin-film solar modules.

“We design and manufacture solar modules using a proprietary thin film semiconductor technology that has established us as one of the lowest cost solar module manufacturers in the world,” the company states in its SEC filing. “In 2005, our average manufacturing costs were $1.59 per Watt, which we believe is significantly less than those of traditional crystalline silicon solar module manufacturers. By continuing to expand production and improve our technology and manufacturing process, we believe that we can further reduce our manufacturing costs per Watt and improve our cost advantage over traditional crystalline silicon solar modules manufacturers.”

The company says that its objective is to become, by 2010, “the first solar module manufacturer to offer a solar electricity solution that competes on a non-subsidized basis with the price of retail electricity in key markets in the United States, Europe and Asia.”

It’s an impressive story, which makes one wonder what’s happening with Canada’s ATS and its plans for an IPO of its Photowatt unit. In late May the company announced delays at its new Spheral Solar unit and its stock immediately plunged. ATS still says it’s going ahead with an IPO, but some analysts say the window of opportunity may now be lost. Sure, First Solar’s IPO plans indicate that investors are still enthusiastic sun worshippers, but it also raises the bar when it comes to technology. ATS’s Spheral Solar technology may have been impressive and attractive two years ago, but it’s less so now. When the company does finally get around to the Photowatt IPO, it will be interesting to see whether investors still have an appetite for it. A key determination will be if Elk Roofing begins selling Spheral Solar integrated roofing products before the IPO.