Ascent Solar soars on Norsk buy

Shares of Littleton’s Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc. (Nasdaq: ASTI) were one of the hottest items on the Nasdaq stock exchange on Wednesday, soaring 89% on news that Norway’s Norsk Hydro ASA (NYSE: NHY) bought 23% of the Colorado company for $9.2 million.

Ascent — which is developing thin-film copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) photovoltaic cells that can be manufactured on flexible, low-cost plastic substrates — also gave Norsk Hydro an option to purchase another 12% of its shares later this year, subject to stockholder approval.

Ascent plans to build a 1.5 megawatt (MW) per year pilot manufacturing plant in the Denver area in 2008. By 2010 it aims to begin large-scale production from a 25 MW plant.

Smart Money writer Will Swarts, whose article on Ascent yesterday was headlined “One Day Wonder,” notes that the company’s market cap soared from $25 million on Monday to $34 million in just two days.

At this morning’s peak share price of $9.43, the company’s market cap briefly flirted with the $50 million mark before settling back to $43 million (@7.99 a share) by the end of the trading day.

Still, it’s not too bad for company that spun off last year from Littleton government contractor ITN Energy Systems Inc., went public in July at $5.50 a share (raising $16.5 million) and has languished at $2 to $3 a share until this month.

The solar energy industry — which got a boost last week from the US Energy Department’s plan to provide up to$168 million in development funds for 13 solar energy projects — suddenly has become one of Wall Street’s darlings.

But investors would do well to exercise caution, and avoid being swept up in what New York Times writer Matt Richtel on Wednesday referred to as the next “watt-com” boom.

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