Tag: "solarcity"

08/29/12

  11:09:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1950 words  
Categories: Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, Ranting, 2012

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

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.

Top Solar Panels

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.

Residential Trends

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:

market share of panel manufacturers socal 1h2012From 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).

Commercial Trends

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:

Commercial solar panels, socal solar 1h2012 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).

Top Inverter Manufacturers

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.

Residential Trends

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:

solar inverter market share, residential segment - 1h2012SMA 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.

Commercial Trends

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:

commercial inverter market share, soCal 1H2012 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).

Popular Pairings

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:

top five inverter-solar pairs, soCal 1h2012

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%.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

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:

expensive solar panels

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%.

Who Uses What?

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:

who uses what, soCal csi data 1h2012

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!

 Permalink

05/16/12

  10:34:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 533 words  
Categories: Solar Economics

Public Solar: Enphase & SolarCity

There aren’t a lot of publicly traded solar companies out there - most of the companies in the solar sector are relatively small operations.  However, two companies in the public sphere are subject to lots of buzz and the contrast between them is intriguing.  We are talking about Enphase Energy (which went public at the end of March) and SolarCity (whose long anticipated IPO is scheduled for… sometime soon?).

Enphase logo

Enphase had its IPO on March 30, with shares priced at $6.00, and the IPO raised total gross proceeds of $61.9 million.  As of the market’s opening today, Enphase (ENPH) was trading at $8.33/share.  On May 10 the newly public company published its first quarterly earnings report with some strong numbers.  Total net revenues grew 136% from the first quarter of last year, going from $18.1 to $42.6 million.  Units sold in the quarter more than doubled from 123,000 last year to 292,000 this year, and gross margin increased from 14.7% to 21.8%.

As impressive as those revenue and growth figures are, they have yet to translate into a profit for the company, with the quarterly loss increasing to $10.2 million, up from $9.3 million last year.  That loss worked out to $-5.38/share.   Nevertheless, that loss was significantly less than the consensus prediction of the four analysts covering the company (by $3/share), and the stock is presently rated as a “strong buy” by two and a “buy” by the other two.

The keys for Enphase will be to continue growing market share (even in the face of growing - if dubious - micro-inverter competition from string/central inverter players like SMA), continue to innovate and keep costs down.  It will be intersting to see how they build on this strong start in the coming years.  (Full disclosure - I do not own any Enphase stock.)

SolarCity logo

Which brings us to SolarCity which announced on April 30 that it had filed a “draft” registration statement with the SEC on April 26.  While normally a filing with the SEC is a matter of public record, under recent changes in the law, companies with less than a billion dollars in annual revenue can file draft registration statements with the SEC, revise the document based on the agency’s feedback, and only make the filing public once it is actually approved by the SEC.  This is particularly interesting given that it had been reported that SolarCity had delayed its filing while working out “accounting issues” related to its business model of leasing solar power systems. (As one pundit put it, “Apparently not all lease accounting is the same.")  Also still outstanding, apparently, is the issue of Sunpower’s lawsuit for theft of trade secrets against SolarCity.

The purpose of the pre-IPO disclosures to the public is to allow potential investors to get a look at how the company is actually doing - revenues, profits (or losses), costs, salaries, etc.    This is of particular interest in conjunction with SolarCity given its unusual business model that has lead to questions about its practices being raised from a number of quarters (including this blog).  Unfortunately, SolarCity has opted - as is its right under the law - to keep that information secret, at least for now.

Assuming that at some point SolarCity actually has to put its cards on the table, we will follow-up on this story.

02/20/12

  10:08:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 419 words  
Categories: Solar Economics

SunPower Sues SolarCity - UPDATED

UPDATE - 5/7/2013 - Read our post detailing how SolarCity and SunPower have settled this litigation.


Just in time for Valentine’s Day, solar powerhouse SunPower sued SolarCity and five of its employees in federal court on Februrary 13.  Alleging violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as various state law claims including theft of trade secrets, the Complaint is less of a Valentine and more of an existential threat to SolarCity’s commercial solar division.

The suit alleges that the five employees - all of whom previously worked for SunPower before being employed by SolarCity - illegally accessed SunPower computers and stole tens of thousands of computer files.  Indeed, it appears from the documents filed with the court, that SunPower has some fairly extensive forensic evidence of the theft, noting the specific types of USB drives that were used to acquire the stolen files and where and when the downloading occurred.  Assuming that evidence holds up to review by computer experts, it could be pretty damning against the five former employees.

Far less clear, however, is whether there is actually any case to be made against SolarCity.  Having lititgated a number of corporate espionage cases (in one of my earlier lifetimes), I know that it can be difficult to connect the dots between the illicit conduct of the former employees and their new employer.  It is the classic question of “What did SolarCity know, and when did it know it?“  Interestingly, SolarCity put out a statement regarding the suit, but did not expressly deny any of the allegations. Instead, it simply noted that:

SolarCity upholds high standards in operational integrity for itself and its employees. SolarCity takes trade secret issues very seriously and we will ensure that we act in accordance with the law.

(Curiously, that statement does not appear on the SolarCity website’s list of press releases, but you can find the entirety of the statement here.)

It is unfortunate to see two well-known solar companies involved in such a dispute, but it was probably inevitable.  Indeed, the history of Silicon Valley is replete with similar lawsuits and as the financial stakes in the solar industry increase, the potential for such actions will also increase.

Of course, the public is unlikely to ever learn the whole truth behind this story - as common as such lawsuits are, public trials are a rarity.  Factor in SolarCity’s rumored desire to go forward with an IPO this year and the likelihood of a settlement increases dramatically.

We will keep you posted as new developments unfold.

09/06/11

  11:00:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1922 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar Tax Incentives, SEIA, SCE, Residential Solar, 2011

The State of Solar California - Outliers and Oddities - UPDATED x2!

UPDATE x2 11/8 - Solar City’s Jonathan Bass adds his perspective on our reporting about Solar City - see his response in the comments.

UPDATE  9/30 - We just heard from Jonathan Bass at SolarCity.  Details at the end.
(Still no word from Galkos!)


Editor’s Note: We have now done an updated analysis showing the same data from 2012.  You can read our 2012 Outliers & Oddities here.


In the first two installments in this series (Part 1 and Part 2) we looked at the most recent data from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) covering the first half of 2011 in SCE’s service area. Using that data we identified trends in cost, equipment and system efficiency.  Along the way, we stumbled upon some Outliers and Oddities in the data that left us puzzled and disturbed.  In this post we name names, specifically Galkos Construction (aka GCI Energy) and SolarCity.

Before we explain to you why they are featured in this post, we would remind our readers of the Solar Bill of Rights created by the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) in the Fall of 2009.  We wrote at some length about the Bill of Rights when it was introduced, but we want to highlight now what then we termed to be, “the most important right of all:”

8. Americans have the right, and should expect, the highest ethical treatment from the solar industry.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the most important Solar Right of all if we are to build an industry that is respected and trusted by consumers throughout this country. This should almost go without saying - and yet, saying it, and living it, is extremely important.

In our view, if we become aware of situations that don’t live up to that Right, we have an obligation to point them out so that our potential clients can make the most informed decisions possible. 
In honor of that principle we present today’s post.

Outliers: Galkos Construction

In looking at the data, from time-to-time a data point would jump right off the screen.  For example, examining all of the residential projects in our data - both “completed” and “pending” but excluding “delisted” - we find that the average installation cost in CSI Rating AC Watts is $8.43/Watt (in DC or nameplate Watts that average becomes $6.99).  As we noted in Part 1, that number has decreased over time and also decreases as system size increases.  Still, given that the residential sector (as designated in the CSI data) only consists of systems between 1 and 10 kW, you wouldn’t really expect significant price variation between installers over a six month period.

But you would be wrong.

Who Charges What?

Here is a chart of the Cost per Watt for the largest installation companies in the SCE service area (you can click on the chart to see it full size):

First, let us give credit where it is due.  The low end outlier is HelioPower, Inc., at $6.56/Watt, and they did it with an efficiency factor of 87% - second best of anyone on that chart. Nice.

But who is that way off in left field?  Coming in at a staggering $13.32/Watt - a full $1.40 higher than their nearest competitor and more than twice what HelioPower is charging - is Galkos Construction, Inc., also known as GCI Energy, out of Huntington Beach.  For that money, they must surely be offering only the most efficient and sophisticated technology, right?  Not so much.  To the contrary, the average installation efficiency for Galkos is only 84.9% - the second worst on the chart and well below the average of 86.11%.  In fact, 99% of the time Galkos appears to use Sharp panels - not exactly an exotic solar panel brand - and in particular the Sharp ND-224UC1 panel (66.5%). A quick Google search reveals that the Sharp ND-224UC1 can be purchased, at retail, for $2.65/Watt or less.  Given that Galkos handled 400 projects in this data set, it is hard to believe that their price for all of their equipment, particularly the Sharp panels, would not be heavily discounted.

Quality Counts

Quality, of course, is important, and the data does not reveal - though the Internet hints at - the quality of installations from Galkos.  Here is how the company describes its own product offerings (from the “Services” page of their website):

Solar by GCI [Galkos Construction, Inc.] Energy
GCI Energy is the largest solar company in Southern California with over 30,000 customers. So you get the most knowledgeable professionals, excellent customer service and a better price.

GCI Energy solar offers the highest efficiency solar panels on the market - those manufactured by Sharp. With Sharp Solar Panels, GCI Energy can tailor a solar panel installation to your specific needs and lifestyle, so you get maximum performance without a maximum investment.
(Emphasis added.)

Does Galkos actually have 30,000 solar customers?  Certainly not (nobody does).  Are they providing “a better price"?  It is not clear what their standard of comparison might be - but their price is not better than any of their major competitors in that chart.  And of course, the statement does not define what they mean by “the highest efficiency solar panels on the market,” but it seems unlikely that Sharp would make that claim.  Here’s one chart that concludes that they couldn’t (note the efficiency of the SunPower and Sanyo panels first, then search for Sharp).

All we can say in response is, caveat emptor.

Oddities - SolarCity

Now we turn to the Oddities section of this post.  Unlike the outliers, which were always of interest to us, we were not looking for the oddity we report here - it literally just jumped out at us.

Sold versus Leased

Question: What is the difference in reported cost between systems sold directly to the end customer and those that are leased (i.e., have a third-party owner in CSI parlance)?

The initial difference that we stumbled upon was so startling that we knew we needed to narrow our focus and control for as many variables as possible to isolate that one factor.  To achieve that end we restricted the data to those residential systems (i.e., between 1 and 10 kW) that were “pending” in the CSI/SCE data (thus, the newest proposed systems in the data which, based on our Part 1 analysis should mean the lowest cost systems). That way our project sample would be as homogenous as possible, eliminating cost variations based on system size and timing.

Given those restrictions, the top 5 installation companies in which the system is owned by a third party are: Verengo (482 systems), SolarCity (468), American Solar Direct (124), Sungevity (99), and HelioPower (63).  Of those five, only two also have direct sales projects pending: Verengo (7) and SolarCity (9).  Let’s see how they compare:

Lease impact on costs - SolarCity vs Verengo

What is going on here?  For Verengo, as the number of systems increases - which it does in going from sold systems to leased systems - their cost per Watt decreases - which is what we would expect.  But not so for SolarCity - even though they are leasing 50 times as many systems as they are selling, their cost for the leased systems went up - way up - as in up by $3.12/Watt!

(One possible explanation for this discrepancy would be that SolarCity uses much more expensive equipment in their leased systems than they do in the ones that are sold.  But they don’t.  On their sold systems, SolarCity always selected a Fronius inverter and their panel choices were split among Yingli (56%), Kyocera (33%) and Sharp (11%).  On their leased systems, SolarCity selected Fronius inverters 98% of the time and again split their panel choices among Yingli (68%), Kyocera (28%), and BP (3%)  with the remaining 1% scattered among Suntech, Sharp and Sanyo.  In other words, there is no significant difference in SolarCity’s equipment choices between sold and leased systems.)

Why Does this Matter?

Why does this significant cost differential matter, you might ask?  After all, customers aren’t paying that price - they are paying on a lease so the “cost” of the system doesn’t matter to them, all they care about are their lease payments.  True enough - unlike the case with our Outlier above, the end customer is not the victim here.

Recall, however, that for systems that are leased, the third-party owner - presumably SolarCity and its investors in this case - receives both the rebates and the tax benefits associated with the installation.  While the rebates are independent of the system cost (they are paid based on CSI Watts), not so for the tax benefits.  Commercial operators   (even though these are residential installations they are treated as commercial projects for tax purposes) are entitled to both a 30% tax credit as well as accelerated depreciation based on the cost of the system.

For the 468 systems that SolarCity is leasing, their total cost is $24,261,735 to install 2,412 kW.  If those installations were billed out at the $6.94/Watt they are charging for their sold systems, the installed cost would be $16,739,280 - a difference of $7,524,037.  At 30% for the federal tax credit, taxpayers are giving SolarCity an extra $2,257,211 - just from six months worth of installs in only the SCE service area.

Wow!

In the words of the 70’s pop song, How long has this been going on?

How Long Indeed

We decided to find out.

Although all of our analyses up until now in this series have been restricted to the first half of 2011, the actual data set contains entries from the inception of the CSI program.  Thus we can look at all of SolarCity’s installs going back to 2007 and compare them as we did for the 1H2011 pending installs above.  We will use the First Completed date to group these by year and analyze only “installed” - and not “pending” applications.  Here’s the data:

SolarCity Installed cost 2007-2011 - sold vs leased systems

The answer would appear to be, almost from the beginning!  Back in 2007, Solar city sold ten times as many systems as it leased.  By 2008 the ratio was down to 4-1 and ever since then leasing has been SolarCity’s predominant business strategy with the ratio of leased to sold now standing at nearly 16-1 in 2011.

Bottom Line

What, then, is the cumulative impact to SolarCity’s bottom line from this trend throughout California?  We aren’t in a position to calculate the depreciation benefits (since that is a function of the system owner’s tax bracket) but we can readily calculate the added value derived from the 30% federal tax credit due to this increased cost per Watt.

Here is our plot of the cumulative effect of those year-by-year increases:

SolarCity additional federal tax credits year-by-year and cumulative

After a slow start in 2007-08, SolarCity’s “model” really took off and has garnered the company an extra $3,000,000+ each year since 2009 (and, of course, 2011 is not yet over) for a total excess accumulation of $10,619,000.  Depending on the investors’ tax bracket, the depreciation could be worth nearly as much as the tax credit.

Double Wow!

UPDATE 9/30 - We have now heard from SolarCity

We just heard from Jonathan Bass, Director of Communications at SolarCity who took exception with our report, although he did concede that he could see how we could have reached the conclusions we published in light of the CSI data.  We encouraged him to please send us a written response in as much detail as he chose and we would publish it in its entirety.  While he agreed that SolarCity would be publishing its response, he did not commit to publishing the information here.

In any event, when we hear more we will update this post again.

What’s Next?

No doubt there is more that we could do with these revelations - but wouldn’t it be better for those with actual oversight obligations to examine this data as closely as we have and to take appropriate action?

As always, we welcome your comments - and if we hear from any of the folks named in this series we will be sure to update the appropriate post.

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!

<< 1 2 3 4 >>

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.

Ready to Save?

Let’s Get Started!

Give Us a Call!

626.793.6025 or
310.584.7755

Click to Learn More About Commercial Solar Power!

We're Social!



Follow Run on Sun on Twitter Like Run on Sun on Facebook

Search

Run on Sun helps fight Climate Change
Multiblog engine