Shareholders of microcap cleantech name Aurora Solar Technologies (Aurora Solar Technologies Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:ACU) might be wondering what’s next for the up-and-down stock, as ACU doubled and then quickly undoubled over the month of February.
Keep watching, says Robert McWhirter of Selective Asset Management, because the next 12 months should be very telling on where the company’s headed.
“Aurora Solar currently deals with approximately fifteen of the largest solar manufacturers in the world and they ran a beta product and the customer who’s running the beta basically said, ‘We’d like to buy this,’” said McWhirter, who spoke on BNN Bloomberg on Tuesday.
“Instead of just selling one-off equipment, Aurora hopes to set [their product] up as a Software as a Service recurring revenue if so there’ll be a lot more stability and predictability to their contracts and income going forward,” he said. “We think that will happen over the next 12 months.”
Not to be confused with Aurora Solar, a private company based in San Francisco which also makes software for the solar industry, Vancouver-based Aurora Solar Technologies is developing its Insight data science product for solar cell production, where Insight uses data collected during solar cell fabrication to determine in real time how well the equipment is performing and where yield might be improved. The end result is a product Aurora hopes will be the industry standard for quality control and measurement in a burgeoning industry.
This past December, Aurora announced a strategic partnership with WAVELABS solar cell testers and has since completed development on its market-entry version of Insight. Then in February, the company announced an agreement with an as yet unnamed strategic technology leader in solar cell manufacturing whose will be evaluation Insight in solar cell production.
Aurora said the evaluation project, which is expected to be completed in six months, will help determine the cost-saving potential of Insight along with the business case for its use as a subscription-based platform.
“We are very pleased to announce this evaluation project with one of the industry’s technology leaders,” said Gordon Deans, Aurora’s CEO, in a press release. “They are a long-standing Aurora customer, and we value their support as we implement our vision to create a new industry standard by improving solar cell manufacturing yield and performance measurement through the intelligent mining and analysis of available data.”
McWhirter said with the solar industry set to grow by 25 per cent per year, Aurora is looking to find a role for its software in that swell of business, with the opportunity being in the industry-wide adoption of its product.
“The suggestion is that the payback [on Insight], as a guess, is somewhere in the $1 to $2 million range, and each plant might save as much as $5 if not $10 million. So, the return on investment for the end user is significant,” McWhirter said.
“And because making solar cells is almost like running a grocery store, the margins when you’re making the solar cells themselves are tiny. If it turns out Aurora Solar’s product can end up helping you increase the overall efficiency and yield, then it would be quite significant,” he said. “We’ll know within 12 months as to whether they have the uptake.”
Aurora saw its share price rise of the latter half of 2020, bringing the stock from a dime to $0.37 per share by the end of the year. The fireworks really started in February when the stock went from $0.32 to as high as $0.80 in the matter of a few trading sessions. The euphoria was short-lived, however, as ACU quickly dropped and is now trading once again in the low 30 cent range.
Part of the rise and fall might be attributed to general interest in the solar sector, where the Solar Invesco ETF also rose dramatically over January and early February before falling back.
Interest in solar has been precipitated by moves by governments worldwide to open up economies post-pandemic with an eye to greening their infrastructure. US President Joe Biden’s recently released infrastructure plan, for one, aims among other things to give a ten-year extension to tax credits for renewable energy projects like wind and solar.
In the case of Aurora Solar, McWhirter said the retail and social media-inspired investor push into a few select names such as GameStop and AMC Entertainment over the first few months of the year may have impacted Aurora’s share price.
“Some of the suggestions were that the run-up in the stock from 30 cents to 80 cents may have been part of the Reddit crew, similar to GameStop,” McWhirter said. “Whether that’s the case I don’t know. We had a tiny position —less than a half percent of the portfolio— and we sold within the last week. The reason for that was, could we see ourselves putting a massive amount of money into this thing? The answer is no. Is it a reasonable speculation over the next 12 months? The answer is yes.”
“We’re looking for an opportunity to buy it back, assuming that we can get an indication that somewhere in the range of $0.28 to $0.32 is a bottom point for the stock,” he said.