In the highly competitive solar marketplace, some companies are thriving while others are withering on the vine. It’s the age old question: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not? In Part 2 of our series on the State of SoCal Solar, we will answer that question, and more!
In Part 1 of this Series we explained our methodology and looked at some overall trends in the data. To identify the players in the SoCal solar marketplace, we extracted the solar panel and inverter data from our CSI data set. (Unfortunately, the CSI data does not include any information regarding racking equipment used on a project.) While the CSI data allows for multiple different panels and inverters to be identified with each project, in reality the overwhelming majority of projects report only one panel or inverter choice. As a result, we will continue our practice from last year and only look at the first choice reported for both solar panels and inverters.
There are two statistics that are meaningful - the total number of panels utilized and the number of projects on which those panels were employed. We excluded “delisted” projects from our analysis and we will further divide the universe of projects by residential or commercial.
In the residential space, there are 97 different panel manufacturers listed, but only 15 of them accounted for more than 1% of the total sales volume of 228,372 panels.
Here are our results for the residential market:
From this analysis it is clear that SunPower and Yingli rule the residential marketplace, combining for 37% of all sales and a comparable share of all projects. New kid on the block, South Korea’s LG Electronics, has jumped out to a very strong start, coming in fifth place behind venerable contenders, Suntech Power and Sharp. Also notable is that Sanyo - a long-time leader thanks to its great efficiency and thermal properties - has nearly fallen off this chart altogether. (Sanyo accounted for just barely 1% of total sales on just 0.8% of all projects.)
Those are the results for the residential market overall, but does it make a difference if you distinguish leased projects from cash purchase? Indeed it does, with only three companies having more than 5% market share in both market segments: SunPower (22.8% purchased, 18% leased), Sharp (16% and 5.3%) and Canadian Solar (9.5% and 6%). LG Electronics sold almost all of its product into the leased systems segment with a market share of 10.7% compared to less than one-half a percent in the purchased segment. Altogether, the purchased market segment accounted for 65,841 panels sold whereas the leased segment dwarfed its older sister with 162,531 panels sold.
The top-five most popular residential solar panel models were: Yingli YL235P (21,098 units), LG Electronics 255S1C (15,970), SunPower 327NE (12,273), Suntech Power 190S (11,488) and SunPower 230E (9,069).
On the commercial side, there are 60 manufacturers listed, of which only 13 accounted for more than 1% of the total sales volume of 350,360 panels. Here are our results from the commercial side:
Suntech has taken over from SunPower the top spot in the rankings, accounting for nearly 21% of the panels installed and it did it with only 7% of the total projects. In contrast, second place finisher, Yingli, had more than twice as many projects - 14.4% of the total - but its market share was only 16.2%. While this select group were the only manufacturers to crack 1% of sales, the remaining manufacturers captured a whopping 28% of all projects.
The top-five most popular commercial solar panel models were: Yingli 230P (43,064 units), Suntech Power 280-24/Vd and /Vb-1 (65,475 - two variants), SunPower 327NE, Trina Solar 230PA05 (21,590) and Trina Solar 225PA05 (17,950).
Analyzing inverter sales is a bit different since many projects have more than one inverter, and in the case of micro-inverters installations, there is one inverter for each solar panel. For our analysis, we will just look at the number of projects with the manufacturer’s product listed as inverter number one.
The CSI data reveals 24 different inverter manufacturers in the residential space, but only 8 of them cracked the 1% market share threshold. Here are our results for the residential market:
SMA is still the leader, with 31% market share but it is losing ground to our favorite inverter manufacturer, Enphase Energy which now finds itself at 21% of the overall residential market. When just leased systems are considered, Enphase falls to number four with just 12.7%, trailing SMA (32.4%), Power-One (21.7%) and SunPower (16.3%).
Buried amidst the 1% that is “other” are some very well known names that appear to have fallen out of favor, such as: Outback Power Systems and Xantrex, as well as newcomers SolarBridge and Enecsys.
When we shift our focus to the commercial segment the number of players drops to just 13, with only 11 cracking the 1% barrier. Here are those results:
This is a very different graph. SatCon Technology has a clear market lead, despite being dogged by rumors of its imminent demise. SMA is second, but most of that is driven by sales of the same, small-scale string inverters that constitute its products in the residential sector. Enphase weighs in at 3.5%, not a bad number considering that large-scale commercial sales are not its forte (although that may be changing).
While our CSI data set potentially allows for more than 2,300 different pairings of inverter and solar panel manufacturers, in reality the number of actual pairings is far smaller, with just five pairings accounting for nearly 48% of all projects. Here are the top five pairs:
SunPower - with its 19% market share pairings - clearly demonstrates the joy of vertical integration and a strong improvement over last year when that combination accounted for just 12.4%. The Enphase-Sharp combination comes in at number 2, but at 8.5% the combination has fallen from 10.3% last year. (Given that the overall market share for Enphase improved from last year, this “decline” really reflects a broader base of installation combinations.) Yingli is well represented as is SMA (which, of course, is the dominant driver behind “SunPower” inverters which are mostly SMA inverters re-branded). Nowhere to be seen in the top five is inverter manufacturer Fronius which last year accounted for two of the top five entries but this year did not exceed 4% in any pairing. Likewise, last year’s panel leader, Suntech, failed to reach the top five this year and Kyocera was also pushed off stage with no pairing exceeding 2%.
Next, as we did last year, we decided to take a look at what pairings are the most, and least, costly, efficient, and ultimately, cost effective. As we noted last year, choosing a second-tier (or third-tier for that matter) solar panel by no means assures you of getting the lowest system cost. In fact, when we looked at the top ten solar panel manufacturers by average cost per CSI AC watt, the results are a bit startling:
None of these are top-tier panels, but they surely are commanding top prices! Keep in mind that our overall average price across all systems (excluding delisted) is just $6.23/Watt and you can see that some seriously overpriced systems were built using these panels.
One measure of panel performance (and the only one that can be teased out of the CSI data) is the ratio of PTC panel rating (meant to more closely reflect real-world conditions) divided by the nameplate panel rating (in STC watts), the higher the ratio the better.
The Sun Energy Engineering panels have a dismal 79.25% rating and the average across all of the panels listed here is under 85%. By contrast, Sanyo panels have an average ratio greater than 89%, ten percent higher than third-tier panels from Sun Energy, yet the systems installed with Sanyo panels averaged $6.84/Watt! (We note with dismay that the entry for Sun Energy panels represents only one system, installed in Malibu - perhaps this was an example of zip-code pricing?)
How do our top pairings rank in terms of dollar per watt? Their numbers are all lower than what we see here, ranging from a high of $8.79/Watt for the average of combinations using REC panels to a low of $6.84/Watt for systems using Yingli panels.
What about efficiency? Which equipment pairings produced the highest and lowest efficiency ratings (as measured by the ratio of CSI Rating divided by Nameplate)? This is a more involved number, since it is not simply a function of efficient equipment (although panel PTC/STC rating and inverter conversion efficiency are both included) but also the specifics of the site - azimuth, tilt, shading and geographic location. Nevertheless, good equipment certainly helps so let’s see where the numbers fall. One additional restriction is required - we will limit this to the residential sector. Why? Because larger commercial projects often using tracking mounts that can have efficiencies greater than 100% and would skew our results away from the panel-inverter pairing.
So with that limitation in mind,the highest combination of panels and inverters in terms of efficiency is First Solar panels (thin film) combined with a Fronius inverter for a 90.51% efficiency score (thanks in part to the thin film panels great PTC to STC rating) while the lowest end is a depressingly low of 68.45% derived from MAGE Solar panels and inverters from SolarEdge. (Not clear if even “power optimizers” can rescue a site with such dismal design characteristics.)
What about our most popular panel-inverter combinations - how did they fare on the efficiency scale? Not surprisingly, the SunPower-SunPower combination is the winner at 84.38%, but four of our five favorite pairs are closely bunched: Yingli-SMA (83.28%), Sharp-Enphase (82.43%), and Yingli-Power-One (82.35%). The lone outlier was REC-SMA which came in at a relatively low 80.11%.
Finally, as we pivot from a pure equipment analysis to one more focused on the practices of the solar installation companies, we wanted to see what the biggest players are using and how does that affect their pricing? Last year we looked at the top five players, but to give us a broader picture this time around we are looking at everyone with 100 or more projects (excluding projects that are delisted). Here are our results:
First a comment or two on who made the top five in this list - SolarCity and Verengo have swapped places, Galkos remains at number three (despite our observations about them last year) but REC Solar and Real Goods have been driven down the chart (to numbers six and twelve respectively) to be replaced by previously uncharted Elite Electric and American Solar Direct. (We will have more to say about all of these folks in Part 3.)
Last year Kyocera was the panel of choice for two of the top five; this year Kyocera did not crack the top fifteen, although it was the second choice for SolarCity. LG Electronics found a niche with Petersen-Dean (and was the second choice for Verengo), while Chinese panel manufacturers dominated the list, capturing five of the fifteen slots. Indeed, the big winner on this list would have to be Yingli, increasing its share of SolarCity’s business from 48% last year to 66% now and pushing aside its countrymate, Suntech, to become the number one choice at Verengo. It will be interesting to see how the ongoing trade dispute and imposed tariffs change these rankings next year.
Power-One gets the big boost this year in terms of inverter choices - elbowing past SMA for the top spot with overall leader, Verengo. But if you want to talk brand loyalty, Enphase is the clear winner - when it cracks the list it is used more than 97% of the time!
Collectively, these fifteen installation companies accounted for two thirds of all the solar projects in our CSI data set - but did that translate into lower prices for their customers? To answer that question - and a whole bunch more - in Part 3 we will turn our attention to Outliers and Oddities to discover the good, the bad and the ugly amongst solar companies. You won’t want to miss it!
In part 1 of this series, we discovered the tremendous damage that can occur when an improperly installed solar power system is hit by a once-in-a-generation windstorm. In part 2, we figured out how the failure had occurred, and we learned that - shockingly - at least one solar contractor is perfectly ok trying to rip off an insurance company!
Having figured out what went wrong with the old installation, it was time to make it right! This post - and the video that follows - will introduce you to our homeowner and to the folks from Unirac who stepped in to help us get this homeowner back online producing clean, reliable and safe solar power!
It was great to work with the folks at Unirac and we are very touched by the sentiments expressed by Rachel.
Of course, that is always our goal - to leave our clients feeling that we have done more than what was expected, more than just what the job called for us to do. It is the little extra steps taken that not only insure a happy client, but a system that we can point to with pride.
Here’s an image of the finished system:
And here are some details - check out these clamps, especially the end clamp:
Unirac Solarmount Evolution Mid-Clamp between two Sanyo solar panels
Unirac Solarmount Evolution End-Clamp holding a Sanyo solar panel
It is easy to see why Unirac calls this Solarmount Evolution because this product really has moved beyond what was available just a year ago. With gear like this, we are confident that these clamps will never allow a panel to separate from the rails - “come loose from its moorings” to quote Rachel - and thus, we feel that this is the safest system we have ever installed. This will be our new standard going forward. Great job, Unirac, and thanks!
Solar Power International 2011 took place in Dallas last week and it was a very interesting show. While it is hard to reduce a three-day event to a single blog post, it is entirely fitting to provide a brief recap on what we saw, and more importantly, our take on what it all means.
We have not seen any actual attendance figures for the show but to us it seemed smaller and less attended than last year in Los Angeles. To be sure, given our other obligations we did not have as much time to walk the floor as we did last year, but the show seemed more contained than before. Moreover, the crowds seemed significantly smaller. Last year in LA it was not uncommon to be in a crowd of people nearly as tight as an infamous LA freeway traffic jam. There was little or none of that in Dallas from what we could see.
Still, the show was sufficiently large that there were undoubtedly cool things that we missed so please let us know your thoughts in the comments (not so subtle hint!).
The biggest change in the show this year compared to the five we had attended previously was how often people brought up financial stability (or lack thereof) as a selling point. Now in this post-Solyndra world that no doubt makes some sense, but it was jarring to hear it brought up so frequently. For example, one distributor touted the leanness of their operation compared to their bloated and struggling competitor. That competitor assured me, sua sponte, that they had been recapitalized and were now stable and moreover, their production guarantees were actually provided not by them, but by a third-party financial institution. One panel manufacturer critiqued another by saying that they were bleeding money while that competitor suggested that solar was simply the flavor of the week at the competition and that they would not have staying power in solar.
And so on.
While we had heard financial critiques of start-ups in the past - and it is always a fair question to ask where a start-up is getting its money and whether it can generate sufficient revenues to survive - this was the first time that we had heard such critiques applied to well-established players. It was both interesting - certainly we have not spent much time analyzing 10K’s in deciding which products and suppliers to use - and a bit distressing. Here’s hoping that next year everyone is doing so well that the financial matters are moot.
The most interesting development at the show this year was the introduction of Korean electronics giant, LG Electronics, into the U.S. solar panel market. From a technology standpoint, their panels - both mono and polycrystalline - appear to land somewhere between Sanyo and Suntech. The fit and finish appeared to be very good and the specs are appealing with a 0~+3% production tolerance and a module efficiency ranging from 13.7 to 16.2%. One of their products, the Mono X (which comes in 250, 255 and 260 Watt variations) also claims to be the first solar panel to be “Carbonfree Certified.”
More significantly, the LG panels possess something that neither Sanyo nor Suntech has: an enormous brand-presence with American consumers. Indeed, given the success of LG in the U.S. consumer electronics marketplace in recent years, it would be surprising to find a potential client who doesn’t already have one or more LG products in their home. “Life’s Good,” indeed.
As fellow blogger and solar tribe leader, Tor Valenza a/k/a Solar Fred, has commented more than once, branding - and more importantly, brand recognition - in the solar industry is what we are all trying to achieve but so far no one really has. Now that LG is weighing in and in a big way, can it be long before we see that LG Super Bowl ad featuring solar panels? (Hey, LG, feel free to go with that idea and you don’t even have to pay me!)
The other big development that we saw was the introduction of a clever, non-lease financing mechanism coming from one of our distributors, Focused Energy. While leasing programs can appear attractive - we’ve all seen the “go solar with no money down” ads - they have limitations for commercial customers including forfeiting the ability to advertise that your company is solar powered. Yet cash-flow concerns can impose a significant impediment to potential clients. While the bulk of those early out-of-pocket costs get recouped fairly quickly thanks to the utility rebate and the federal tax credit, commercial clients must still pony-up the full freight to get the project rolling.
That is where Focused is stepping in to help out. Their program will allow the commercial client to assign to Focused the rebate and federal tax credit (in the form of the 1603 grant) and immediately reduce that amount from their initial purchase price. We are excited by this program and we will post in greater detail when we have had a chance to review the fine print.
Finally, we would be entirely remiss without a word or two of thanks to our sponsor, the great folks over at Enphase Energy. Going into the event we wrote about how our presence was being subsidized by Enphase and we have also reported on the very spirited competition in which we participated and which became the talk of the show.
As great as all that was, on a more significant level, this was a chance to have unprecedented access to the Enphase decision makers, from CEO Paul Nahi, to Product Manager Magnus Asbo, to Marketing folks like Christine Bennett and Noelani Price. Think about it - how often does an installer get asked by the CEO and Product Manager of a product you use everyday, “What are the things you like the least about our product?" That’s easy - hardly ever! But we were able to provide exactly that type of feedback this past week in Dallas. Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of our feedback ends up in their product, but it surely does feel good to be asked.
Given that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - something Enphase already knows quite a bit about given the influx of other companies, including SMA, into the micro-inverter space - we would not be surprised to see more manufacturers inviting installers to participate with them at future shows. We surely hope that happens as it can only be good for the industry, but Enphase has set the bar really high.
So those are our thoughts; if you were at the show we would love to hear about your insights and observations in the comments.
Yesterday we wrote about our most recent foray into the California Solar Initiative (CSI) data and how that data revealed trends regarding the costs of solar in SCE’s service area during the first half of 2011. We continue today with a look into the equipment that was specified for these projects and explore who’s hot and who’s not.
As a reminder, our data set for this analysis consists of an extract from the CSI Working Data from 8-24-2011 that includes data for SCE installs where major status activity took place during the first half of 2011. That data set consists of a total of 6,306 projects of which 698 are “delisted” (meaning the project’s rebate reservation has been cancelled for some reason), 3,131 are “installed” (completed or in some stage of rebate payment) and 2,477 are “pending” (in some stage of the process from initial rebate application filed but no rebate claim yet filed). For today’s analysis, we will exclude the “delisted” projects from our data, leaving a total of 5,608 projects to analyze.
CSI tracks data about equipment used on projects in great detail. In particular, for every project, CSI allows for up to seven different panel manufacturers and ten different inverter manufacturers! So how many of our projects use multiple panels or inverters by different manufacturers? We would expect not many, and the data supports that surmise. Only 11 projects reflect two different solar panel manufacturers on the same project and in most of those cases the installer has substituted one solar panel for the one originally designated. (Indeed, one project reflects four different panels being identified to CSI for the same project, finally settling on what appears to be two 180 Watt panels plus six 175 Watt panels feeding a single string inverter - curious design, that!) Similarly for inverters, only 24 projects have two different inverter manufacturers specified and no project reflects more than two. Given that, our analysis will only look at the first specified panel and inverter manufacturer.
So what is happening with solar panels?
Overall, there are 85 different panel manufacturers included in the data; however, most of them account for very few projects. If we apply a reasonable filter to this data and only look at solar panels that appear in 50 or more projects, the number of represented manufacturers drops from 85 to 14, and the total number of represented projects falls from 5,608 to 5,079. In other words, those fourteen manufacturers account for 90.6% of all of our projects, as demonstrated in this first graph. In fact, the distribution is even tighter with only five manufacturers exceeding 10% of the total: Suntech Power (18.7%), Sharp (14.8%), SunPower (14.3%), Kyocera (12.8%) and Yingli Green Energy (10.8%).
There are twenty-three different inverter manufacturers represented in the CSI data, reflecting the greater complexity of inverters and the more rigorous path required to bring an inverter to market in the U.S. Filtering for manufacturers represented by ten or more systems cuts the list from 23 down to just 13.
SMA America is the runaway winner in this competition. Under their own label, they account for 35.4% of all of these projects. Moreover, the majority, if not all, of the “SunPower” inverters are actually re-branded SMA inverters. When the SunPower inverters are added in, SMA accounts for a whopping 48.2%. That leaves only six other manufacturers to exceed even 1% of the total: Fronius USA (19.8%), Enphase Energy (15.2%), PV Powered (5.5%), Kaco New Energy (3.1%), Power-One (3%) and SatCon Technology (3%).
Two things of interest in those last numbers - the inroads of relative newcomer Enphase Energy (which was only founded in 2006), and the inclusion of SatCon, since alone among that list, it only sells central inverters for the commercial market (where it is dominant).
That is how the different manufacturers stack up head-to-head, but what about combinations? Are there pairings of panels and inverters that are most commonly preferred? The data reveals five combinations that account for more than 5% of the total: Suntech panels with SMA inverters (13.5%); SunPower panels with “SunPower” (i.e., SMA) inverters (12.4%); Sharp panels with Enphase micro-inverters (10.3%); Yingli panels with Fronius inverters (8.2%); and Kyocera panels with Fronius inverters (8.2%).
While certain pairings are popular - are they cost-effective and how well do they perform together? We decided to look at system combinations from an average $/Watt perspective and from an average CEC efficiency perspective to see what jumps out of the data.
Here’s the first thing that struck us - picking a system with lower-tier panels does not guarantee a lower installation cost. In fact, many of the bottom-tier panels (none of which made the cut in our discussion of panel manufacturers above) had install costs well above our overall average for the data set ($6.37/Watt). For example, we found a handful of systems using solar panels from such luminaries as Apollo Solar Energy, SET-Solar, and REC ScanModule where the average installation cost was more than $10/Watt!
Who was on the very low end of the install cost curve? Gloria Solar, Suniva, Kaneka, Silray and Solaria each had a handful of installations that were below $4.50/Watt.
More significantly, how did our most popular pairings perform? Here’s the data:
|Combination||Average Cost $/W|
|Suntech & SMA||$5.01|
|SunPower & SunPower||$8.49|
|Sharp & Enphase||$11.62|
|Yingli & Fronius||$9.58|
|Kyocera & Fronius||$9.79|
What is up with the Sharp & Enphase combination? While Enphase installations are known to cost a bit more than a comparable string inverter installation (confirmed by our own experience), they certainly don’t cost $5/Watt more! Rather, it turns out that the overall average for all Sharp-based systems is $8.53/Watt (nearly $2.00/Watt above the average) with prices ranging from a low of $6.17/Watt (when paired with a Solectria inverter) to a breath-taking high of - are you sitting down? - $19.30/Watt when paired with a Sharp inverter. So who installed that system, you ask? You’ll learn all about it (or at least all that we can tease out of the data) later in this series.
Shifting our attention to efficiency, thin-film module maker First Solar gets the highest overall ranking, 91.7%, thanks to its extremely high STC to PTC ratio. On the more embarrassing end of the scale, Sunlan solar brings up the rear, averaging only 80.7%. From our list of the most popular solar panels, Sanyo (long a Run on Sun favorite) does the best, averaging 89.3% across a variety of inverter combinations. The rest of the top five are: Canadian Solar (87.6%), SunPower (87.5%), Suntech (87.2%), and Schuco (87.0%). The bottom-five of our best selling panels? That dubious honor belongs to: Sharp (86.0%), BP Solar (85.8%), ET Solar Industry (85.6%), Trina Solar (85.5%), and REC Solar (85.1%).
As for our five most popular pairings, here is the data:
|Combination||Average System Efficiency
|Suntech & SMA||87.2%|
|SunPower & SunPower||87.1%|
|Sharp & Enphase||85.2%|
|Yingli & Fronius||85.6%|
|Kyocera & Fronius||86.0%|
That is a pretty tight grouping, with a total range of just 2%. To break out of that mold with a conventional panel/inverter pairing, the Sanyo & SMA combination is your best bet, weighing in at 89.5%.
Finally, we decided to see what equipment combinations are preferred by the biggest installers in the market. The following table lists the top-five installers and reports the number of projects in the data, their most frequently chosen solar panel (and % of times used) and their most frequently chosen inverter (and % of times used).
|Name||# of Projects||Panel Mfr (%)||Inverter Mfr (%)|
|Solar City||910||Yingli (47.8%)||Fronius (95.5%)|
|Verengo||688||Suntech (91.7%)||SMA (81.7%)|
|Galkos Construction||401||Sharp (98.5%)||Enphase (99.0%)|
|REC Solar||207||Kyocera (42.5%)||SMA (75.4%)|
|Real Goods Solar||165||Kyocera (54.6%)||SMA (65.5%)|
Collectively, these 5 installation companies accounted for 42.8% of the projects in the CSI data. Certainly companies this large must have some real clout when it comes to negotiating prices, thereby allowing them to pass along those savings to their many customers.
Or do they?
Find out in our next installment!
A recent survey looked into the question of whether solar power systems are now being viewed as a commodity item - that is, pretty much one system/component/installer is as good as another so the only point of differentiation is cost - with the lowest cost being the winner. The evidence from the survey was pretty mixed with a slight leaning amongst all respondents toward solar being a commodity, while the installers who responded felt that there were other, more important points of distinction. Of course, that might just mean that the installer community is fooling itself, that solar is a commodity and customers really do not care about anything other than price.
The Run on Sun philosophy is a bit more complicated and considerably less cynical. We are committed to providing the best-performing solar power systems on the market. That is reflected in our preference for Sanyo solar panels for residential systems and our adoption of Enphase micro-inverters to overcome shading issues. We are also committed to having the most professional installers in the industry - and that is reflected by our pursuing and achieving NABCEP Certification for all three principals of the company. Taken together, we are designing and installing systems that produce more energy than their rebated rating would predict. We are proud of these systems and we are equally proud of the great comments we get from our customers.
And yet, it is hard to get past the notion that we might not be connecting with the broader customer base that wants to add solar, but is daunted by the price. To serve that customer group we need to provide a system design that maintains our exacting standards yet can be priced at a more attractive level. That is a real challenge, but we are now in a position to make such an offering using the new Conergy P-series solar panels. Conergy is the world’s largest distributor of solar power products - and these new panels are built to Conergy’s demanding specifications in China, providing substantially lower cost without sacrificing quality.
The addition of these panels to the Run on Sun line of products will allow us to offer lower-cost systems where space and shading constraints permit. Combined with our long-standing reliance on SMA inverters, these new panels will allow us to provide high quality but much lower priced systems that will help make solar more affordable than ever before. For those settings where space or shading requires a more sophisticated approach, we will still be offering our top-of-the-line Sanyo/Enphase systems that allow homeowners to wring every Watt available from their location.
We are very excited about these new panels and we hope that they will help even more folks add solar so that they too can Run on Sun.