Tag: "suntech"

03/22/13

  07:57:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 237 words  
Categories: Solar News, Commercial Solar, Ranting

News Flash: Fox Falsely Attacks Solar - Oh, wait...

Just as surely as the Sun rises in the East, the notion that the folks at Fox News would attack solar energy is, well, predictable.  Here’s their latest (although another installment could arrive at any moment!):

First of all, SoloPower has not tapped a penny of the federal loan guarantee.  That was slated for expansion of their Oregon factory, after the existing production line was fully operational.  So while it may be true that SoloPower is in trouble, it certainly isn’t “tanking the economy.”

And the flip side of today’s difficulties for solar panel makers - whether of conventional silicon modules like those from Suntech, or thin-film CIGS panels like SoloPower hopes to sell - is that those falling prices have made solar more affordable than ever before.  Even as rebates have declined - and the CSI rebate is now about a break-even proposition with the cost of doing the paperwork - the final cost for installed solar has never been lower.

So yes, we are going to see a continuing shakeout in the industry as panel manufacturers adjust to a shifting climate or go out of business.  That is pretty much to be expected as an expanding solar industry matures.  But for consumers there has never been a better time to go solar.  If you are the owner of a commercial building, give us a call and let us prove it.

Just don’t count on hearing that from Fox News.

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12/03/12

  11:33:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1010 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Safety, Ranting

Centex Clouds Solar Tile Repairs

Centex logoRecalls can be messy - but they are made worse when the company performing the repairs insists upon a release of all possible claims before starting work. But just such a mess is what some homeowners have found themselves facing as they try to find a fix for their Centex “solar homes” that are no longer producing power, just headaches. Here’s our take.

Nearly a year ago we first wrote about a recall of Suntech solar roofing tiles.  Those tiles - allegedly manufactured for Suntech by a now defunct company called Open Energy Corporation - were recalled over fears that they could overheat and cause a fire.  Our post generated a considerable number of comments - many from folks affected by the recall who were wondering what to do.

Centex "solar home"

Centex Solar Home in Pleasanton, CA

One such group of respondents were folks living in “solar homes” built and sold by Centex.  Indeed, news accounts going back to the housing boom in 2006 show Centex touting these homes, some of which sold for over a million dollars.  Now these aren’t homes in Beverly Hills - rather, they are in subdivisions of towns like Pleasanton and Roseville in California’s central valley.  Homeowners were lured to these particular homes because of the promise of lower energy bills thanks to their “solar roof” which Centex estimated could save homeowners 65-70% off their utility bills - a big deal in an area with high air conditioning loads each summer.

But all of that changed with the recall that began in 2011 and peaked when the Consumer Products Safety Commission issued a formal recall notice in February.  The immediate consequence of the recall was that all of these solar power systems had to be shut off while the owners awaited word of how repairs would be handled - so much for energy savings.  We understand that originally Suntech paid homeowners for their lost energy production, but that as the investigation proceeded, Suntech backed away, asserting that the panels in question were not their branded products.  The manufacturer of the roofing tiles - Open Energy Corporation, which became Applied Solar, Inc., which became Applied Solar LLC - has since gone bankrupt and ceased operations.

Which leaves Centex - the builder of these homes - to make things right.

Now keep in mind that if Run on Sun - or any other solar contractor operating in California - were to install a solar power system on a residential roof, we would be required to provide to that homeowner a ten-year warranty covering our work.  These homes, which were built between 2006 and 2009, are well within the relevant ten-year warranty window so it is not unreasonable that Centex should handle these repairs for their customers.  Customers, we should note, who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Centex for their home.

But the response from Centex has been troubling to say the least.  While they notified affected customers that they would provide repairs without cost, they sought to extract a release from liability that is breathtaking in its scope.  Here is the release language from the Centex agreement:

Release.  In consideration of completion of the CPSC Repair [i.e., repair of the solar tiles] owner releases and fully discharges Centex Homes from any and all liabilities, claims, causes of action, or damages of whatever nature, character, type or description, which Owner may have or may incur in the future, arising out of, or in any way connected with component parts, being replaced/added under the CPSC Repair.

In other words, yes, we will repair your defective roof, but only if you agree that after that, we are done and any future problems you might have with the equipment Centex built into your roof is your problem!  Keep in mind that the reason for the recall in the first place was the concern that these tiles could overheat and cause a fire - so the potential future harm at issue here is nothing short of your house burning down!  No solar contractor in California could legally extort such a release from a customer as a pre-condition of performing warranty repairs, let alone recall-mandated repairs.

Not surprisingly, some homeowners are uncomfortable signing on to such a one-sided agreement and one of them complained to us.  Now while we don’t have any skin in this game, the high-handedness of Centex was offensive and we decided ask them the basis for their demand.  Somewhat surprisingly we got a response to our inquiry (you can read the complete email here.)  In pertinent part, here is what the spokesman for Centex had to say:

If homeowners do not wish for us to do the repairs, they are free to contact Suntech directly and try to get them to make repairs.  In addition, if a homeowner has an issue with the contract, we have addressed those on an individual basis.

Of course, Suntech insists that these tiles are not their products and the manufacturer has long ceased to exist so the first option really doesn’t apply.  The second, however, is quite intriguing in that it makes clear that Centex will give on their overreaching language if the homeowner is willing to push back hard enough.  (Although we wonder if that entails hiring a lawyer.)

We asked them for clarification but they declined to comment further.

So that is where things stand.

Centex has a bunch of homeowners with “solar homes” that cannot make use of the sun for fear of having their homes burn to the ground.  Everyone else who potentially had anything to do with this problem has either disavowed involvement - Suntech - or has gone out of business - Applied Solar.

Maybe enough people will see this post and put pressure on Centex (a member of the PulteGroup) to do the right thing.  (Although a consumer complaint site with more traffic than this blog doesn’t appear to have done much to move them.)  Perhaps what is needed is an enterprising class action lawyer  or a district attorney willing to intervene on behalf of consumers left without a decent resolution to a problem not of their making.  We will be waiting, and hoping, for such a result.

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!

03/25/12

  11:09:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 462 words  
Categories: Solar Economics

China Tariffs - Solar Dark Cloud

Last week marked the first day of Spring - a time of optimism and growth, eagerly awaited by sun lovers everywhere, and certainly by those of us in the Solar Industry.  But unfortunately, last week was also marked by news that trade sanctions in the form of tariffs would be imposed upon Chinese solar panel manufacturers.  That is bad news for the Solar Industry as a whole, even if it boosts - temporarily - the prospects of a few domestic manufacturers.

Suntech logoThe tariffs that were imposed this past week were quite modest - far lower than some had predicted - and range from 2.9% to 4.73%.  Given that some had predicted tariffs of as much as 50%, these modest penalties were generally greeted with sighs of relief in the industry.

At Run on Sun, the majority of the solar panels that we specifiy are unaffected by the tariff decision since Sanyo panels (Japan and Mexico) and and LG panels (South Korea) are not manufactured in China.  Of our featured products, only Suntech panels were affected, and they at the lowest rate imposed.

The vast majority of our clients will not see any impact from this decision.  Still, anything that can potentially drive up the price of solar equipment at a time of diminishing rebates and tax incentives (such as the expiration of the section 1603 grant program) is a cause for concern.  As this decision established, prices for solar panels have been falling worldwide because of a stronger manufacturing supply chain combined with a weakening demand in some markets, particularly in Europe, and not because the Chinese government was massively subsidizing its solar manufacturers as some had claimed.

Anyone who has ever been to a solar trade show has seen hundreds of Chinese panel manufacturers sitting in small booths, waiting for potential customers.  (Indeed, the New York Times reported that there are presently more than 700 solar panel manufacturers in China!)  The vast majority of those products are third-tier, cut-rate products that are used by companies who only care about the lowest possible cost - not reliability, performance, or safety.  In solar, like everything else, you get what you pay for.  If clients demand quality, they will get it - whether from high-quality domestic producers or top-tier importers like Sanyo, or LG, or Suntech.

We are proud of all of the products that we feature - including Suntech solar panels - because we believe that they offer great quality for our clients.  But for those who only care about finding the cheapest dollar per watt solution, they will continue to put undue pressure on quality manufacturers around the globe - whether in the US or China.  Consumer demand for quality is the ultimate way to improve this situation - and that means educating consumers as to what quality means in this market - but tariffs are not the answer.

02/29/12

  05:57:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 299 words  
Categories: Residential Solar, Safety

Suntech Recalls Solar Roofing Tiles

Suntech America, in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has entered into a voluntary recall regarding certain models of solar power roofing tiles.  The product, known as SolarBlend™ Roof Tiles, has been involved in one  reported fire that only affected the roof tiles (not the underlying structure) and no one was injured.  Nevertheless, Suntech is attempting to contact homeowners who had the product installed and all affected systems should be shut down until repairs - which Suntech will provide at no cost to the homeowner - can be performed.

Suntech SolarBlend roof tile subject to recallThe SolarBlend tiles (an image of which is shown above) were manufactured and distributed throughout the United States from October 2009 through March of 2011.  The recalled model numbers include:

  • STP050D-5/ZCB (brown)
  • STP050D-5/ZCF (terra cotta) and
  • STP050D-5/ZCG (gray).

Consumers who believe that they have such tiles installed should contact their installer or Suntech directly at (888) 770-7122 between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday or email to: services@suntech-power.com.

The Recall Alert suggests that there are only 300 or so installations of these tiles.  We decided to see what the CSI data would tell us about these products and who installed them.  Here are our results:

Installers

The good news here is that these products only account for a very tiny fraction of solar installs during the recall period.  The bad news is that - at least from a web search - it appears that many of these companies are no longer in business - meaning affected home owners will need to contact Suntech directly.

Run on Sun has never used these products - not because of a fear of potential fires, but simply because the roof tile product has a lower efficiency meaning that you need a larger roof area to provide the same amount of power.  You can check out our preferred solar products at our solar products page.

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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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