The massive fire sweeping through the Canadian oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, Alberta, has roiled energy markets and produced apocalyptic images for television news.
The disaster also serves as a reminder that the world still needs safer, cleaner and more efficient alternatives to fossil fuels.
For the best investment play on renewable energy, look to Canada.
Canadian Solar (CSIQ - Get Report) , a major producer of solar wafers, cells, and integrated power systems, is one of the most reliable growth investments in this turbulent broader market. And its shares are dirt cheap, to boot.
The company is scheduled to report first-quarter earnings on Wednesday. The stock is a strong buy ahead of operating results.
The average analyst estimate for Canadian Solar is earnings of 14 cents a share, compared with $1.04 a share a year earlier. That seems like a disappointing number, but the company's far-sighted investments in technology and productive capacity will bear fruit in future quarters.
For the current second quarter, Canadian Solar is expected to post earnings of 33 cents a share, compared with 31 cents a year earlier.
For full-year 2016, the company is projected to report earnings of $1.91 a share, compared with $2.93 in 2015. Earnings are forecast at $2.70 a share for next year.
The solar industry is brimming with promise, as well as peril. The highest-profile casualty has been debt-ridden SunEdison, which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 21, wiping out nearly $10 billion in market value.
Canadian Solar has outlasted its peers by focusing on the value-added aspects of the solar supply chain, such as systems integration and solar modules.
The production of photovoltaic cells and wafers keeps getting cheaper, which is a multi-year tailwind for the solar industry. However, by the same token, PV cells and wafers have become an oversupplied commodity business, making it tough for scores of solar wannabes to eke out viable profit margins.
Smaller-capitalization players without sufficient cash reserves have fallen by the wayside, leaving the playing field to Canadian Solar and its primary rivals, First Solar and SunPower.
But Canadian Solar looks better than its rivals. With a market capitalization of $929.92 million, it boasts financial staying power but still has more room for growth than First Solar, with a market cap of $5.31 billion, and SunPower, with a market cap of $2.36 billion.
What's more, Canadian Solar is officially based in Canada, but most of its production capacity is based in China, where costs are considerably cheaper. This dual structure allows Canadian Solar to sidestep the regulatory hassles and investor skepticism of being listed as a Chinese company but still enjoy the economies of scale afforded by the Middle Kingdom.
The company also focuses on utility-scale power projects, which entail sophisticated engineering for which it can charge a premium.
Canadian Solar boasts a global customer base, with operations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America.
The company is especially active in the United Kingdom.
Last month, Canadian Solar said that it had connected an additional six solar power plants to the nation's electrical grid.
Solar power is becoming more widespread, bigger in scale and less expensive to produce. The average price of a solar panel has plunged by 60% since 2011, and technological advances continue to drive down costs.
A growing number of countries, particularly China, are aggressively pursuing solar power as costs come down.
Solar PV module costs have fallen 75% since the end of 2009, and the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar PV has fallen another 50% since 2010, according to research group RenewEconomy.
Industry analysts expect these costs to fall another 40% by next year.
Consequently, even though oil and gas prices are at historic lows, energy customers haven't switched from solar back to fossil fuels.
In the past, this cyclical tendency to abandon solar when fossil fuel prices decline would have been the norm. But solar energy has "de-coupled" from other energy markets because solar now boasts an entrenched and cost-effective infrastructure of its own.
This development marks a watershed in global energy markets and creates myriad investment opportunities.
One of the best ways to rack up market-beating gains over the long haul is to tap into inexorable trends, which is why investors should get aboard the solar power bandwagon, while stocks such as Canadian Solar are still relatively cheap.
Canadian Solar shares trade at a ridiculously low trailing 12-month price-to-earnings ratio of 5.15, compared with the trailing P/E of 22.65 for its industry.
The stock trades above $16. The one-year median analyst price target is $29.25, and it is $45 on the high end, which would represent a gain of nearly 180%.
A chance to almost double an investment doesn't come around very often. Grab shares of Canadian Solar ahead of next week's earnings report.
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