Tag: "kaco"

07/16/13

  09:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1086 words  
Categories: Solar Events, Ranting, Energy Storage, Intersolar 2013

Intersolar 2013 - The Storage Debate: Poseurs and a Player

We went to Intersolar (IS) wanting to suss out who actually was on track to bring a useful solar energy storage system to market.  We found lots of poseurs and one real player.  Here’s our take.

Only Pretend

You would think that if you worked for a major manufacturer in the solar space as a director of product development you would have an idea of what your product was, and what the target market for it might be.  But when it comes to product developers in the solar storage space that just doesn’t seem to be true.  Or at least that was the impression we were left with after talking to some of the folks in the Storage corner of IS.

Solar Battery

Solar Battery booth at ISTake these guys.  Solar Battery - or Sonnen Batterie as it appeared on CTO Torsten Stiefenhofer’s business card - had the largest booth, and the biggest box (allegedly a product) in the Storage corner.  They also had the strangest attitude of any of the storage folks that we spoke to at the show.

Keep in mind that I approached Herr Stiefenhofer from the perspective of someone who really, really wants to buy his product for my clients.  And he insisted he had an actual working product - over 1,000 sold! - but only in Germany.  Well, when was he bringing a product to the U.S.?  No idea - that was why they were at the show, to get a sense of the potential U.S. market.

Ok, fair enough, but then the conversation turned strange.  Rather than discussing his product’s benefits and features, he was actively hostile about the question of selling here.  It was almost like he had been ordered to be at IS, but clearly thought the whole idea of selling a product in the States was a giant waste of time.  Certainly there are significant logistical issues in bringing a complicated product to market here, and once introduced it has to be supported.  But all of that is apparent - so why the attitude?  Somehow I doubt that we will be purchasing a product from “Solar Battery” any time soon.

Which brings us to KACO.

KACO New Energy

KACO's faux storageKACO has been talking about bringing a solar storage product to market for a long time.  In fact, we wrote about this impressive looking box after Intersolar last year. A year later and there was no product on display, and apparently, still no product coming to these shores.  My conversation with Bill Reaugh, Senior Director of Product Management, left me scratching my head as he seemed to have very little sense of what market he should be targeting or how to get his hands on data to allow him to do so.

He initially suggested that the market was the residential space - and seemed surprised when I pushed back and insisted that the small commercial market was a more realistic segment.  After all, folks in GS-2 that could shift their peak demand so as to get into GS-1 where the full value of a solar power system could be realized would save a bundle using such a system.

“But how big would such a device need to be and how big of a market could that actually be,” he demanded.

Ok, so now I’m supposed to be doing his job for him?  Fine, I’ll play along.

How about this, I suggested.  Contact the California Public Utilities Commission and make a public records act request.  Ask them to give you data about the number of customers that each of the IOUs have on GS-2 (or the equivalent, demand-driven rate structure in PG&E and SDG&E territories)  and their average peak demands.  Analyzing that data would give you some ideas about both product design and market size.

“Interesting,” he said, turning to his colleague in the booth, “Research that.”

You’re welcome.

On Point

By this time I was pretty thoroughly frustrated.  These folks just didn’t seem like they were serious about bringing a product to market anytime soon.  What we need is a U.S. company that actually gets the market and has an intelligent, focused strategy for serving it.  Enter Stem.

Stem

We had come across Stem before when they announced a partnership with SMUD but we had never spoken with anyone from the company. My first hint that things might be different at the Stem booth was the pleasant discovery that the very capable Leesa Lee - formerly of another clever company, Enphase - was there as Stem’s Senior Director of Marketing.  A company that could lure Leesa away from Enphase must be on to something.

Stem data analysisThen Leesa launched into her pitch describing the company’s focus and it was as if she had been listening to my prior conversations.  Stem is all about the commercial space, and the ability to intelligently offset peak demand to maximize the benefit of local power generation.

Here’s how they frame it on their  impressive website:

Vision

Our vision is to bring energy consumption into the 21st century through distributed storage technology. We are an energy technology company that enables businesses to control their electricity expenses and helps the electrical grid to be more efficient in managing peak usage. Our mission is to provide energy customers and providers with a powerful optimization service that responds to their unique consumption and distribution needs.

About Stem

Stem is leading the way to a brighter, more cost-effective energy future. Since 2009, Stem has been analyzing how various types of businesses use electricity and how they are charged for it. We’ve used this information to design a solution that protects companies from unnecessarily high electricity costs without requiring any changes to the way they run their businesses.

In other words, Stem has taken the time to analyze the market and develop a product directed at the needs of that market!  What a concept!

According to Leesa, Stem should be shipping products before the end of the year.  And as further evidence of their understanding of the market, they are putting on a webinar next week on “Using storage to optimize value of PV installations."  Yeah, I think these folks get it.

Of course, there is a difference between having a clear view of your market niche and being able to fill that niche, and the jury is still out on Stem.  But it is awfully refreshing to talk with people who actually seem to understand what it is they are trying to do.  We are looking forward to seeing Stem succeed - oh, and did I mention that they are a U.S. company?  Even better.

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09/19/12

  04:03:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1882 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Westridge PAC Project, SPI 2012

SPI 2012 Recap

We spent last week at Solar Power International in Orlando thanks to our friends at Enphase Energy - here is our recap.

Rocking with Enphase

Enphase booth at SPI 2012

As we noted in our pre-show post, we were invited to attend SPI this year at the invitation of Enphase Energy, the company behind the most successful (but certainly no longer only) micro-inverters on the market.  This was our second consecutive year at SPI courtesy of Enphase and a better host could not be found.

Last year we were part of their Installer Challenge where six installers from around the country participated in a good-natured competition to demonstrate how easy it was to install the  Enphase M215 product with its plug-in cabling.  We didn’t know it then, but very soon we would be installing more than 200 M215’s on the Westridge roof, and in doing so, earn our second invite.

Westridge project on display at the Enphase booth

Westridge Project on Display at Enphase Booth

Having achieved substantial success in the residential market, Enphase is working very hard to make in-roads in the commercial sphere - and thus our install at Westridge fit nicely into that narrative.  We participated in a panel with a group of other installation companies that have also incorporated Enphase into commercial projects and we did a pair of one-on-one interviews that showcased the Westridge project and our experience using Enphase.  We also got to speak to a fair number of visitors to the Enphase booth (which was always crowded) and we even got a sneak peak at a prototype of the next model (which we can’t comment on now, except to note that some installer-requested features will be included - stay tuned!).

It was a great way to see the show and we can’t thank Kady Cooper and everyone at Enphase enough - you folks rock!

Oh, and one other point.  Pretty much every large company at the show hired local “talent” to help host their booth.  Most companies that do that, seem to think that it makes sense to have these women wear outfits that are more akin to what you would see on a dance floor than at a solar installation. As the father of a 16-year-old daughter, it was really satisfying that the two women who were brought in by Enphase to help host their booth wore outfits just like all of the other Enphase employees.  Another example of how Enphase Energy is a class act.

Stars of the Show?

Enthusiasm Gap

As great a time as we had at the Enphase booth, we would have to say that overall, the show was a bit of a letdown, as was the show in Dallas last year.  We admit to our California bias, and we mean no disrespect to solar fans in Dallas and Orlando, but the crowds just never came anywhere near what saw filling the aisles in Los Angeles two years ago - despite a significantly worse economy in 2010.  Not clear that Chicago will be able to reverse that enthusiasm gap (and also not sure whether we will be there to find out), but we expect things to bounce back when the show moves to Las Vegas in 2014.

Trending

If there was one discernible trend at the show, it was that AC-modules - whether fully integrated or by way of the abundance of micro-inverters on display - are here to stay.  We think the reasons for that success are pretty compelling (as we have noted before) but it certainly looks like the panel and inverter makers have come around to that point of view - however grudgingly that may be.

Storage - Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

A number of companies were talking about energy storage and a presentation at the KACO booth declared that local storage was the future of solar.  That may well be, but none of the products that we saw at the show, including those from KACO and Samsung, appeared to be ready for deployment anytime soon.  Still, the prospect of potentially generous incentive dollars for such storage - assuming the CPUC can ever implement the existing law - means that this will continue to be a hot topic and one which we intend to cover in greater depth in the future.

LG Bounds Up the Learning Curve

LG 300 Watt solar panel

We wrote last year about the introduction of LG Electronics into the U.S. solar market and this year they became our “go-to” panel of choice for working with the Enphase M215 micros.  Well it is apparent that LG is paying attention to their feedback as they had a couple of significant announcements.

First, their existing panel products, notably the 255 Watt panel that we will be using for the rest of the year, is getting a frame redesign that will make the overall panel 11% lighter without sacrificing strength or durability.  Also, the panel now has clips on the back side to hold the panel leads in place so you cannot have them getting crushed by the panel frame when you stack them prior to installation.  These are relatively minor changes, but they show a great attention to the type of details that make an installer’s life easier, and even safer.

The other announcement was that of their upcoming 300 Watt, 60-cell panel that is due out next summer.  We had heard rumors that LG was about to announce such a panel, and now they have - of course, next summer is a long way off.  It will be interesting to see how this new panel meshes with the new Enphase micro-inverter which will most likely also debut sometime next year.

President Clinton Rocks the House

To be sure, the biggest hit of the conference was the speech delivered by President Bill Clinton, fresh off his tour-de-force at the DNC the week earlier.

President Clinton addresses SPI 2012

President Clinton did not disappoint, taking on the new role of Cheerleader-in-Chief.  Often touted as the smartest guy in the room, the former President displayed detailed knowledge of the solar industry and he both exhorted and chided the crowd for not getting their successes before the public.  “Most people don’t know that there are 100,000 people working in the solar industry,” Clinton reminded the audience.

“You are going to win this fight,” the President insisted, “the only question is when and how."  What was needed was for solar to reach the sort of “tipping point” which would make that ultimate success inevitable.  But we certainly aren’t there yet, which is a shame given that “the United States leads the world in its potential for solar so we must also lead the world in installed capacity - but we are not."  A lot of that is a reflection of different policies between countries that have adopted solar with gusto, like Germany, and the more tepid policy response of the U.S.

But those of us in the solar industry are in the “future business” and “you have to take risks if you are going to go to tomorrow’s dance."  We should embrace those risks because we are in such a fortunate position:

The greatest human tragedy in this country today is the crushing unemployment.  Millions of Americans wake up every day with no hope that today will be any better than yesterday.  But you are so very fortunate because you get to get up every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “Today I’m going to do something great!"  You just have to keep doing it until we reach that tipping point.

Thanks for the encouragement, Mr. President, we’re working on it!

Winner of the “Oh No, You Didn’t Go There” Award
Tie: SMA & Shoals Technology

SMA

SMA, one of the leading inverter manufacturers in the world, had a tortured product “near roll-out” during SPI and in the course of same made possibly the worst ever argument in support of their product from a solar company.  Here’s how it played out.  After initially dismissing the introduction of micro-inverters as a fad that would never catch on, SMA has now had to introduce their own micro-inverter product, but they remain deeply ambivalent about the whole thing.  Nowhere was this more on display than their presentation about the “virtues” of their new product during SPI.  We attended one of these schizophrenic productions and came away not only scratching our head, but seriously annoyed.

We were fundamentally puzzled by a presenter who spent the first half of his presentation questioning why on earth (or more accurately, on the roof) anyone would ever want to install a micro-inverter in the first place.  He then abruptly shifted gears to sing the praises of his product, and then introduced perhaps the most significant non-starter concept at SPI: the hybrid PV system, which to SMA means installing both micros and a string inverter on the same project.  (Do I really want both AC and DC conduit runs coming down from the roof?  Is anyone going to do this?)

Perplexed by the whole thing, I went up after the presentation to hear what else he would say.  The conversation promptly shifted to warranties, specifically, how long would the SMA micro’s be?  Well, we were told, the product is still in testing (with UL) so he couldn’t definitively say.  “At least ten years, hopefully 15,” he said.  (Now mind you that CSI rules require at least a 10 year warranty, so we weren’t really breaking any new ground here.)  “But wait,” said one of the installers standing by, “I have to compete with the 25-year warranty that Enphase is offering.  How am I supposed to compete with that if all you offer is 10 or 15 years?"  SMA’s spokesperson responded by belittling the idea of a company that has only been in business a short time offering a 25-year warranty, calling it not credible.  “Maybe,” said the installer, “but once I submit my bid, I’m not there to make that argument to the customer.  So I’m at a disadvantage if the guy bidding against me submits a bid that offers a 25-year warranty.”

Clearly frustrated by this predictable turn in the conversation, SMA’s spokesperson decided to pull out his trump card: “Look, you wanna talk 25-year warranties, you wanna know who else had a 25-year warranty?  I’ll tell you who, Solyndra!”

Oh.. No… You… Didn’t!

At that point my head completely exploded.  As an industry we simply cannot use Solyndra to make cheap points.  We are attacked time, and time, and time again about the Solyndra situation and yet, here was SMA’s spokesperson going there with great relish. Just plain stupid - and frankly, totally unnecessary.  Come on, SMA, you are better than that.

Shoals Technology Group

But while SMA’s speaker gets the award for most inappropriate comment, far and away the worst offender at SPI was a company called Shoals Technology that used the show to kick off an ad campaign for a product they called “Nice Rack” with photos of buxom women exploding out of their bikini tops.  We alluded to this in our recap of the InterSolar conference, but obviously they did not get the hint.  And then when lots of folks started to complain, they really earned the tin star with clusters for boorish behavior beyond the pale.  You can contact their CEO, Dean Solon, by way of LinkedIn, or you can go to their contact page to let them know what you think of their sexist behavior.  This is not the way to grow this industry, guys.

Google

07/14/12

  05:20:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1278 words  
Categories: Solar Events, Ranting, Energy Storage

InterSolar 2012 Recap

We just returned from InterSolar North America 2012 and here are our reactions to the show, in no particular order, some good, some bad and one really pretty ugly…

IS ≠ SPI

This was our first exposure to InterSolar; previously we had passed up on the show in favor of Solar Power International (which we have attended every year since 2006).  But this year SPI is all the way out in Orlando, so barring another miracle, we will likely have to give SPI a pass.  InterSolar, on the other hand, was close at hand in one of our favorite cities, San Francisco, so we decided it would be a more cost-effective alternative.  That it was, although we almost paid a high price indeed by taking a way-too sketchy route to the convention center Monday evening!  Lesson learned, we stuck to safer, saner routes the rest of the week without incident.

The biggest difference between InterSolar and SPI was in who was there and, more importantly, who was not.  It seemed that every time we searched for a particular manufacturer, they weren’t to be found.  For example, missing in action was: LG (whose panels we discovered at last year’s SPI), Sanyo/Panasonic, and Enphase Energy (though we did run into a number of their key personnel).  This was beyond frustrating since the biggest point of the show is for us to reconnect with companies that we have worked with in the past to learn about their upcoming product lines.  Oh well, that’s what you get for not paying the big bucks for SPI!

Buzz Worthy

Despite that disappointment, there was still plenty of buzz around the show.

Revenge of the Micros

Highest on the buzz meter at the show was the plethora of micro-inverter/DC-DC converter/optimizer manufacturers on hand. This was made all the more intriguing given that the king of the micro-inverter hill, Enphase, was not in the house.  (I was told that they have never exhibited at InterSolar NA.)  Even long-time micro opponent, SMA, was there, touting - if you can call it that - their new micro-inverter.  Indeed, in what has to be the most reluctant product launch of all time, SMA had its micro on display (alongside inverters ranging in capacity all the way up to hundreds of kW).  Imitation is, indeed, the sincerest form of flattery and Enphase must surely be blushing.

No doubt, SMA will be around a long while (with or without a micro-inverter offering) but it is hard to see all of these other players surviving.  (As one distributor who carries Enphase now told us, it is really hard to see the value in adding another micro-inverter line to their product card.)  It will be interesting to see how this shakes out over time.

We did learn that prominent, Las Vegas-based installer, Guy Snow, is presently conducting his own temperature performance testing between various micro-inverter lines.  We are hoping that he will share his data with us when his study is complete.

Storage on Display

Energy storage - more for load shifting/shaving than for off-grid use - was another hot topic floating around the hall.

KACO energy storage product

KACO appears ready to try and jump into that potential market, although their tentative product (shown above) will likely need some tweaks for the U.S. market.  Their present device (available in the EU only for now) combines a 7kW inverter with an integrated load management/charge controller device and a bank of batteries.  We were told that the batteries are Lithium-Ion and come with a twenty-year warranty, believe it or not!

Boasting a not-so-modest price tag of “around $40,000,” the box, we were told, is targeted toward the “embarrassingly wealthy."  Well, ok, there are certainly some of those out there, but how many of them have homes that would only need a 7kW system?  And what about the size of the thing?  A house big enough to have room for that rack mounted beauty will need two or three of them to actually handle their needs.

Still, it is a most intriguing product.  As utilities get smarter about pricing energy, look for an ever larger market niche to expand for such load shifting devices.  Combine that with the possibility of a $2.00/Watt rebate under the SGIP program, and energy storage devices might well be poised to be “the next big thing.”

Party Hearty

A solar conference requires opportunities for the solar tribe to hang out and party hearty and InterSolar was no exception to that rule.  Quite the contrary, there were numerous chances - on the conference floor and in a variety of nearby venues - for the faithful to raise a toast, honor the memories of our fallen friends, and lubricate the formation of new friendships.

Beyond a doubt, the folks in the Schletter booth win the award for hospitality - whether offering the best coffee on the floor each morning (along with some tasty pretzels) or the seemingly endless supply of good German brew that appeared each afternoon, they really managed to meet the needs of the crowd (and boy did they draw crowds!).

Our solar Tweet-up was a big hit - but boos to The Thirsty Bear which for some reason was unable to seat us all in the same vicinity.

For me, the most touching moment of the week was during the Solar Battle of the Bands, when tributes were made to our dear friend, Heather Andrews, and others who have died in the past year.  Solar needs all the advocates it can get, and this was just another reminder of how great a loss Heather’s passing was, and how deeply that loss continues to be felt.

Just Plain Fail

Eddie are You Kidding?

Sometimes shows like this reflect the humor level of a barely pubescent boy.  Nowhere was this more on display than on the third floor amongst several of the racking vendors who couldn’t seem to resist making multiple jokes about racks. As in:

“Heh. Heh.  He said, ‘racks’.  Snicker."  (This amidst images of a busty woman doing improbable things with an L-foot.  Or some such.)

Seriously?  And then people wonder why there aren’t more women in solar.  Hint - dropping the sexist humor would be a good start.

The lamest marketing attempt (in the non-sexist category), had to be this:

Designer invertersThat’s right - designer colors for your inverter!  Now that’s how to differentiate your inverter product - not by efficiency, or warranty coverage, or any other aspect of its technical design but by featuring interchangeable color panels.

Uh, note to Sinexcel - you don’t mount these things in your living room!

Count Me Out

And then there was Fire Energy, a solar distributor that has a facility in nearby Chatsworth.  Always eager to find local supply sources, I asked them about what they stocked.  All kinds of things, I was told by the eager salesrep.  Well, what about Unirac, do you stock that?

“Yes,” she said, “but it is generic Unirac.”

“What,” asked I, “is generic Unirac?”

“It is product that we have made for us in China, designed to be as close as we can make it to Unirac’s products without interfering with Unirac’s copyrights [sic].”

Wow.  So your business model - of which you brag to a total stranger - is to rip off your competitor’s designs and build them cheaply in China and you want me to endorse that strategy?  Sorry, not interested.

I suppose it is a sign of the, ahem, maturity of an industry when it can exhibit all the same faults and foibles as any other mature industry, including trade disputes or infringement actions.  It may mean we are reaching maturity, but these sorts of actions are not what the solar industry is supposed to be about.  Come on, folks, we can do better!

08/30/11

  09:25:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1292 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, 2011

The State of Solar California - Part 2: Who's Hot and Who's Not?

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.

CSI Data Generally and Equipment Specifically

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.

Solar Panel Trends

So what is happening with solar panels?

solar panel manufacturers, CSI data 1H2011Overall, 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%).

Solar Inverter Trends

Inverter manufacturers - CSI data 1H2011

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).

Popular Pairings

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%).

Winners and Losers

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:

Cost Effectiveness of Popular Panel/Inverter Pairings
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:

System Efficiency of Popular Panel/Inverter Pairings
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%.

Who Uses What?

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).

Top-5 Installers by # Projects - Preferred Equipment
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!

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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