Can SunPower Corporation Maintain Its Technology Lead?

SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR  ) has long held a lead in panel efficiency, the major competitive advantage it has in solar. But how durable is this competitive advantage with everyone trying to pump out more power per square inch? 

Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL  ) recently announced a lab cell that reached 24.4% efficient, on par with SunPower, and equipment supply companies are trying to increase efficiency for all manufacturers. Even First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR  ) says it will increase efficiency to 19.5% by 2017. 

The fact of the matter is that SunPower's 21.5% efficient panels are well above the 15% to 17% that is standard in the industry and for those modules to make a significant leap they'll have to improve processes, like making back contact panels like the Trina cell mentioned above. But most manufacturers don't do that process, giving SunPower a head start. 

It's one thing making an efficient panel in a lab and another making it commercially viable, which SunPower has already done. Solar specialist Travis Hoium covers this and more in the video below. 

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  • Report this Comment On May 21, 2014, at 12:31 PM, clanza875 wrote:

    Producing the most efficient panel (at room temperature in a laboratory) hardly means you have the technology lead. Sunpower doesnt hold the holy grail of efficiency. It costs Sunpower more in input costs to produce that panel than it does a competitor with a lower efficiency panel. Monocrystalline technology has been around for over 50 years and its hardly a secret. The technology lead belongs to the company that has the best efficiency/cost blueprint. Efficiency and cost have always been a tradeoff.

  • Report this Comment On May 21, 2014, at 1:30 PM, speculawyer wrote:

    Cost is more important than efficiency. The sunlight is free so the only issue on efficiency is whether you can get enough energy from area you have.

  • Report this Comment On May 21, 2014, at 2:34 PM, clanza875 wrote:

    By the way the industry standard 15-17% efficient panels you mention in the article need to do more than just improve process by adding back contact. Those companies (other than First Solar) use multicrystalline technology which is cheaper to manufacture than monocrystalline. So they would have to change their entire techology over to mono (similar to the 24.4% efficient cell by Trina) to match those efficiencies (or even come close).

    Now that FSLR has matched the solar cell efficiency of multicrystalline at a cheaper cost, its only a matter of time until FSLR puts out a cheaper panel as efficient as any multicrystalline panel for a fraction of the cost. The multi players better start looking for alternatives.

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Travis Hoium

Travis Hoium has been writing for since July 2010 and covers the solar industry, renewable energy, and gaming stocks among other things.

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