by Andrew Michler

Two solar power giants in the US are embroiled in a legal face off which has industrial espionage and intrigue written all over it. Commercial solar supplier Sunpower is hitting solar installer SolarCity with a lawsuit claiming it stole confidential information.



Taking cues from the master Solar energy systems inspired by natural forms

Solar power: Green but inefficient

While green energy like solar power can be the answer to our power needs, there are certain hindrances to its success. First, it is expensive building the necessary equipment for harvesting the sun’s power. Next, sufficient land needs to be made available to set up a solar energy systems. Lastly, modern methods don’t allow for maximum harvesting of sunlight, which is why a lot of it goes to waste. These drawbacks pose a huge problem in attempts to replacing conventional energy with green sources. Considering solar energy systems cost about $45,000 each, most towns can’t afford to invest in them, as maximum benefits of this green energy source will be reaped only when several such systems will be installed. This is why the world still relies on conventional power even though fuel supplies are fast depleting.



New Concentrated Solar Power Plant Design Reduces Land Use, Increases Efficiency

Probably the most efficient way of harnessing solar power is by using Concentrated Solar Power plants, or CSPs. Their design, however, is based on large mirrors (heliostats) placed in rows around a central tower, onto which they reflect the sun’s energy.


Ford Focus Electric will offer solar home option

Running an electric car on the power of the sun is many an EV enthusiast’s dream. Ford isn’t the first company to combine EV charging with solar energy, but it is trying to make it as easy as possible to go from driving on imported oil to extremely local energy.



SunPower, First Solar, environmentalists reach agreement on 700 MW of PV projects

SunPower Corporation (San Jose, California, U.S.) and a subsidiary of First Solar Inc. (Tempe, Arizona, U.S.) announced that they have reached a settlement agreement with three environmental groups on two large solar photovoltaic (PV) plants under development in Central California.

The agreement between Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and the solar companies should remove barriers to the development of the 250 MW California Valley Solar Ranch and the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm.



SunPower signs 15-Megawatt solar panel and tracker technology supply agreement with Mahindra in India

SunPower Corp. (San Jose, Calif.) on August 4th, 2011 announced that Mahindra EPC Services Pvt Ltd. has ordered 15 megawatts of SunPower solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and SunPower T0 Tracker technology for delivery by the end of this year.

The solar panels will be used by Mahindra for building multiple grid-connected solar power plants in India in the Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat regions.



Munich Re plans 2.5 MW SunPower PV system on a carport structure in New Jersey

Munich Reinsurance America (Munich Re) and SunPower Corp. on June 16th, 2011 announced that SunPower will design and build a 2.5-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) power system at Munich Re’s Plainsboro, N.J. facility.

SunPower will install its high-efficiency solar panels on a carport structure that will provide shade for the facility’s parking lot while reducing annual electricity costs by almost $500,000.

SunPower solar panels are guaranteed to deliver more solar energy per square foot than all other solar panels on the market today


Solar carport system to maximize solar power generated onsite

“The success of our core business is inextricably linked to environmental protection, so a sustainable approach is an indispensable component of our business strategy,” said Tony Kuczinski, president and CEO of Munich Reinsurance America.

“With the benefit of SunPower’s experience and technology, our solar carport system will maximize the solar power generated onsite, optimizing our savings and reducing the need for the public utility to burn fossil fuel. It’s good for business, our community and the environment.”


The system will also help New Jersey meet its renewable energy goals

“SunPower solar panels, the most efficient available, are guaranteed to perform for 25 years, delivering more solar energy per square foot than all other solar panels on the market today,” said Tom Leyden, managing director at SunPower.

“As a result, Munich Re will enjoy significant longterm economic benefits of this solar carport system, maximizing the return on their investment. The system will also help New Jersey meet its renewable energy goals.”

Construction on the system will begin this year, and it will be operational in the second half of 2012. Munich Re will sell the solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) and environmental benefits associated with the system, enabling the regional utilities to meet their renewable portfolio standard requirements.




I know, solar panel records are set almost everyday these days, it seems. One reason solar power costs have already dropped over 20% this year. But who doesn’t love a “new solar panel record set” story?

SunPower, the most popular solar panel company in California, which is the clear solar leader in the U.S., was recently awarded the Guinness Book of World Records Award for providing “the most efficient commercially available photovoltaic modules on the market.” The award was presented at the Intersolar conference in Germany.

“We got the certification from them [i.e., Guinness] on Monday, and made the announcement at Intersolar on Wednesday evening at our E20 launch event,” said SunPower spokesperson Ingrid Ekstrom.

The solar panels have an efficiency of 22.4% and are the first commercially-available PV modules to achieve an efficiency of over 20% (not that even 1% difference on this topic is huge).

“The E20 panels,” which have 96 cells and are come in 333-watt and 327-watt models, ”are available for all markets—residential and commercial rooftops and ground-mount power plant applications,” Ekstrom noted.

The 22.4% efficiency rating was confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). And, the testers identified that they could actually operate 5% more efficiently. “The 22.4 percent efficiency for the Maxeon cells is an average efficiency measure for the product.”

I’m sure we’ll continue to see such records set in the coming years (if not months). But congratulations to SunPower for now for achieving this record efficiency and getting the nod from Guinness on it.




SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWRA, SPWRB) just announced their newest solar panels with total area efficiencies of more than 20 percent. The 96-cell solar panels use SunPower’s 22.4 percent efficient cells and boast a positive power tolerance rating. The prototype for the SunPower panel was developed using funds provided four years ago by the U.S. DOE under its Solar America Initiative.



SunPower has been the heavyweight champion of the world when it comes to commercialized cell and module efficiencies for the last half-decade — and by a significant measure. The company’s back-contact cell design, in commercial production since 2005, moves the metal contacts to the back of the wafer, maximizes the working cell area, and eliminates redundant wires. SunPower has been able to achieve consistent improvements in efficiency with each successive generation of commercialized cells, and this has translated to gains in the module arena as well. The firm’s Gen 3 cells have efficiencies in excess of 23 percent.

SunPower is likely to be the efficiency leader when it comes to high-volume PV cells and modules for the foreseeable future. The problem, as this article by Michael Kanellos points out, is that 24 percent is awfully close to the realistic ceiling, meaning there may not be much further to go from there.

At Intersolar this week, Suniva announced an efficiency conversion of more than 16 percent with 260 watts from a 60-cell panel. As we’ve reported, Suniva uses ion implantation amongst other techniques to drive efficiency gains.

Suntech (NYSE: STP) announced a new generation high-efficiency module at Intersolar with up to 15.2 percent conversion efficiency. These modules use 18 percent efficiency cells, but not the high-efficiency Pluto technology.

Other high efficiency solar players include Sanyo’s HIT technology at 17.7 percent cell efficiency and a number of established Chinese c-Si players vying for the third spot, such as Yingli and JA Solar.