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Wind Versus Solar: Is One a Better Wager?

Stocks in this article: AKNS GE ESLR TSL UTC APWR

"It's a fair question to ask, and an important one," said Ben Pang, an analyst with Caris & Company, though obviously not over a period of one day, and not over the longest-term perspective. "As a whole, both the solar and the wind energy industries have always maintained that there is enough room for everyone to profit," Pang said.

In the long-run, it doesn't matter if one sector is the better performer in 2010 than the other sector, in terms of the maturation of both the wind and solar energy sectors. But that might matter to investors. It is notable that when Spain said adios to solar subsidies last year, it made the change to the benefit of wind energy.

Take the German feed-in tariff system, which could cause real short-term pain to solar investors. If the subsidies are reduced by a significant amount, there will be a sell-off in solar in 2010 -- or even before the end of the year, depending on when the announcement is made by Germany and its severity. And that's a good thing for the solar industry in the long-term, while a potentially bad event for solar investors.

Pang argued that the solar industry needs to wean itself off the government welfare system of tariff-related business and develop a strategic, risk diversified mix of both short-term tariff incentivized and longer term non-tariff business, such as 10- to 20-year utility-scale projects.

"This is the key issue for the group, and I believe it will be better for them to not be in a subsidy situation," Pang said.

Does that mean that investors who fear the German tariff reaper should migrate to wind as a short-term play? It's not a fair question to ask when it involves a company like GE. Analysts note that GE is basically a distressed financial company that has a wind turbine business, so you can't play it apples-to-apples versus dedicated solar companies.

A-Power Energy Generation Systems (APWR), a pure play alternative energy company, also recently announced a big win for a wind farm in West Texas, though unlike the GE deal, it has yet to receive all of the pivotal regulatory approvals. A-Power was up moderately on Thursday with a gain of 1.3%.

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