NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- During SunPower's ( SPWRA) investor day in December, the U.S. solar company stated that concentrated photovoltaic solar -- using tracking technology to capture the most potential sun energy on its panels -- could be a "game-changer" by 2012.

A few deals from the past week, culminating in First Solar's ( FSLR) announcement on Friday that it had acquired RayTracker for an undisclosed sum, show that, in the least, the game is afoot in attempts by solar companies that are targeting the U.S. project business to eke out incremental benefits in the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) by using tracking technology.

Earlier in the week, Chinese solar company LDK Solar ( FSLR) announced a $30 million purchase of the U.S. solar project company, Solar Power, which has as one of its core services works with several proprietary tracking technology firms to building and install solar tracking systems.

When SunPower made its bold proclamation about the potential impact of tracking technology, one reservation from the investment community was whether tracking technology was really all that unique. SunPower was early among companies talking up the levelized cost of electricity as opposed to cost per watt of solar, because it's among the highest priced vendors on the market.

With players from low-cost leader First Solar moving into tracking, as well as relative newcomers to the U.S. market -- let alone module sales and project development, like LDK Solar, both announcing strategic moves involving trackers within the same week -- the SunPower announcement seems prescient in terms of trackers being on the landscape, but less certain in terms of tracking technology as a differentiating factor for the company.

The U.S, solar market is expected to grow into one of the key markets, if not key solar growth market in the new few years. Estimates for 2011 solar installations in the U.S. run as high as 2.5 gigawatts, which is likely a best-case scenario. However, with the cash grant to develop solar projects extended by one year, California approving a reverse-auction mechanism for small-scale solar projects, and the entire solar pack targeting the U.S. as key European markets like Germany and the Czech Republic slow, or hit a hard stop, it's no surprise that any and all efforts to make project economics more attractive will become a part of the competitive landscape.

Auriga Securities analyst Mark Bachman wrote in a research note on Friday afternoon that the First Solar acquisition of tracking technology was a surprise move, as he had long believed First Solar's levelized cost of energy would actually increase if they had to pay for trackers as part of the over project economics.

"In football terms, First Solar just pulled a reverse. For years we have argued that adding trackers to First Solar's system would result in an increase to the price of electricity (LCOE), given that the price of the tracker more than offsets the increased production (kWh). With the announced acquisition of RayTracker (private), we believe FSLR has now found a suitable solution such that utility scale projects using CdTe thin film modules can now benefit from the use of trackers."

Auriga says it's the first time that tracking will be used in conjunction with First Solar's CdTe thin film modules.

The Auriga analyst reads the First Solar move as a negative for SunPower. "We see this move as another threat to SunPower, which competes directly with First Solar for utility scale solar projects."

"We believe the move to purchase RayTracker was an offensive maneuver to acquire a highly competitive tracking solution, rather than a defensive maneuver to prevent a competing bid."

Whether it proves to be a threat to SunPower or not, after this week's events, it's clear that this aspect of the project business is something for investors to track.

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.

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