Solar Technology Spotlight: SunPower, Westinghouse Solar

SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR), the leading commercial solar installer in the US, announced today that it’s begun commercial production of its most efficient solar cell to date. 

Its third generation Maxeon solar cell is rated at 24%  conversion efficiency of sunlight to electricity.

SunPower is known as a "premium" solar cell manufacturer. Its solar panels cost more but they’re the most efficient and physically attractive on the market.

All the contacts are on the back of SunPower’s solar cells, giving them a sleek, homogeneous black look.

Maxeon, which measures a tiny 160 millimeters, also has the contacts on the back. Solar panels contain about 128 solar cells and produce more energy per square meter compared to conventional crystalline solar cells.

It also has low reverse-bias breakdown voltage to deliver better performance in shady and dusty conditions, and a better temperature coefficient for increased energy harvest in hot environments. The new Maxeon solar cell offers improved aesthetics with a consistent, homogenous, sleek black look.

Last year, SunPower sold a majority stake to French oil giant, Total and then SunPower purchased Tenesol, another solar company owned by Total, to consolidate solar under one division.

And it launched a $105 million fund to finance residential solar leasing projects.

Also last year, SunPower produced the first Sustainability Report in the solar industry, joining 80% of the world’s largest company who annually disclose environmental, social, and corporate governance data.

Just yesterday, the trade group, Solar Energy Industries Association, asked the industry to adopt the document, Solar Industry Commitment to Environmental and Social Responsibility, which promotes standards throughout the industry.

Westinghouse Solar Announces Instant Connect

Westinghouse Solar, formerly known as Akeena Solar, released a plug-and-play line of solar panels that can reduce installation costs by half.

The panels eliminate panel-to-panel wiring and racking, making them quick and easy to install.

UL-approved electrical connectors are integrated directly into the sides of each solar panel – allowing the solar panels to automatically plug together when they are mounted on the roof.  The frames of the solar panels – and splices used to connect them – provide precision alignment of the electrical connectors, completely eliminating the need to manually wire panels or struggle with custom cabling on the roof.

In typical solar installations today, installers have to source hundreds of individual parts and then manually assemble them on the roof, says Westinghouse. 

Parts include long sections of aluminum or steel racking, clips to attach the panels to the racks, electrical conduit to isolate the high voltage DC wires, inverters, disconnects, heavy-duty copper grounding wire and lugs, wiring clips, zip ties and nuts and bolts to hold everything together.

With Instant Connect, electricians, HVAC contractors and skilled Do-It-Yourselfers can install a system. They can start small – with just one or two panels – and easily add onto the system.

"There’s tremendous pressure to reduce the fully-installed costs of rooftop solar," says Barry Cinnamon, Westinghouse CEO. "Manufacturers of solar panels are bending over backwards to squeeze an extra 0.1% efficiency out of their panels, or to reduce their costs by $0.01/watt. But now that high quality solar panels are selling for less than $1/watt, the biggest remaining cost savings opportunity is on the installation itself. With Instant Connect, installation costs are cut by more than  $0.25/watt, which has a much greater economic impact on customers than incremental efficiency or cell cost improvements."

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative aims to reduce the cost of solar by 75% through innovations in installation, permitting and manufacturing.

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