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SunPower: Solar at All Scales

With headquarters in San Jose, Calif., the U.S.A., SunPower has been responsible for major solar industry milestones since its inception in 1985. It designs, manufactures and delivers the planet’s most powerful solar technology broadly available today and continues to break all records and every rule. Thomas H. Werner, CEO of SunPower Corp., talks about the company’s growth factor, competitive edges and plan for the future.

Thomas H. Werner, CEO, SunPower Corp.

 

Reported by Amanda Kim (kbs@infothe.com)

 

 

Please give us a brief introduction on the company--e.g., brief company history and general details about your main technology and strengths.

 

SunPower is a publicly held company and was founded in 1985. We design, manufacture and deliver the planet’s most powerful solar technology broadly available today. Residential, business, government and utility customers rely on our experience and proven results to maximize return on investment. SunPower is headquartered in San Jose, Calif., the U.S.A., and has offices in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

 

Please introduce some of the company’s most representative products to our audience. And, update us if there have been any technical breakthroughs SunPower has recently made.

 

SunPower’s proprietary back-junction solar cell technology generates up to 50% more power per unit area than conventional solar panels and two to four times the power of thin film. This industry-leading technology offers customers substantially more power from a roof, a parking lot or in a land area developed as a central station PV power plant. The company’s original 20% minimum-rated solar cell was announced in 2003 and no other solar company today produces a commercial solar cell with that level of efficiency. Since SunPower began production, it has increased its average cell efficiency by more than 20% with its next generation, or Gen 2, solar cell and will begin mass production of its Gen 3 solar cell with efficiencies of more than 23% in 2010.

Other recent technical breakthroughs include SunPower’s recently announced world-record, full-sized solar panel with a 20.4% total area efficiency. This prototype solar panel was successfully developed in the lab and is a 96-cell, 333-watt solar panel comprised of the company’s Gen 3 solar cell technology. The larger area cells are cut from a 165 mm diameter ingot and include an antireflective coating for maximum power generation.

 

How does SunPower perform today in respect to saving the environment (and cutting the electricity bill)?

 

SunPower designs and manufactures the most powerful solar cells and panels on the planet today. This industry-leading technology offers substantially more power from a rooftop, a parking lot or in a land area developed as a central station PV power plant. Customers who net meter experience significant reduction of their electricity bill, and in some cases, regularly witnesses their meter turning backward. Because solar systems turn light directly into electricity without generating any air or water emissions, SunPower’s customers enjoy generating pollution-free energy.

 

From your experience, what do you think are new areas of opportunities for PV folks in the near future?

 

SunPower has been a leader in increasing solar cell efficiency as well as cost reductions across the value chain, from silicon feedstock to the design of its systems technologies to reduce manufacturing costs, packaging costs, transportation costs, installation costs, and operations and maintenance costs. The company will continue to pursue its technology roadmap that will allow further cost reductions going forward to make solar power even more affordable from rooftops to power plants.

 

You are operating in the global market. Which geographical market do you think has the biggest long-term growth potential in the PV sector? And what are the key factors that help increase SunPower’ worldwide presence? Will there be any geographical expansion in the near future?

In the long run, the largest markets for solar in the world will be the largest electric markets in the world. Over the past five years, Germany has led the world in solar adoption and before that, Japan. Other European markets, including Italy, France and Spain are growing, as is the North American markets. Both China and India are likely to be large markets in the future, and both have recently announced major new programs for solar. SunPower has a global footprint with panels deployed from Antarctica to the North Sea. The company has a dealer/partner network that spans four continents to offer residential and small commercial customers rooftop solar systems for their homes and businesses.

 

10-kilowatt residential retrofit on a home in East Hampton, New York, the U.S.A., with the SunPower 210 solar panel

 

What have been SunPower’s major achievements over the past year? And what was the driving force behind the achievement?

 

In 2009, SunPower announced several new products. SunPower’s commitment to continually improve its efficiency and offering industry-leading solar products helped to drive these achievements:

● SunPower Monitoring System: SunPower Monitoring System offers homeowners the ability to monitor SunPower solar systems with a wireless, in-home wall-mounted LCD display that provides power production and cumulative energy information. The monitoring system also provides the convenience of Internet access to a solar system’s performance from virtually anywhere. Customers can view a system’s energy performance and environmental savings on an hourly, monthly and annual basis.

● Next generation of the SunPower T20 Tracker: the next generation of its SunPower T20 Tracker (T20 Tracker). It is the most powerful solar tracker on the market today, incorporating SunPower’s high-efficiency 128-cell, 400-watt solar panels for maximum energy output. SunPower’s newest T20 Tracker is a single axis, ground-mounted tracker that follows the sun to deliver the highest system performance. It is pre-assembled for a fast, simple and scalable installation and offers customers a choice of design options to meet specific site needs. With fewer moving parts and refined mechanical structure, the T20 Tracker provides increased reliability, durability, less maintenance, and better wind resistance than conventional trackers. Each T20 Tracker unit generates up to 3.7 kilowatts of power and, by following the sun, delivers up to 30% more energy than a fixed tilt system of the same capacity.

● SunPower T5 Solar Roof Tile: the SunPower T5 Solar Roof Tile system, an all-in-one mounting system and frame that’s made from an engineered glass-filled polymer that is non reflective, eliminating the need for electrical grounding of the array. Combined with SunPower’s high-performance, 96-cell solar panels, the T5 Roof Tile produces the industry’s maximum solar energy per roof and greatest energy savings. Tilted at a five-degree angle, the T5 Roof Tile is the industry’s first all-in-one, non-penetrating photovoltaic rooftop product that combines solar panel, frame and mounting system into a single pre-engineered unit. The T5 Roof Tile solar tiles interlock for wind resistance and secure installation. The patented design is adaptable to virtually any flat or low-slope rooftop.

● SunPower 20.4% Solar Panel: SunPower’s recently announced its world-record, full-sized solar panel with a 20.4% total area efficiency. This prototype solar panel was successfully developed in the lab and is a 96-cell, 333-watt solar panel comprised of the company’s Gen 3 solar cell technology. The larger area cells are cut from a 165 mm diameter ingot and include an antireflective coating for maximum power generation.

 

Where will SunPower put its focus in early 2010 in general speaking?

 

SunPower deliberately invests in growing its business from the residential roof to the central station power plant. In order to meet the climate goals discussed in Copenhagen, Denmark, the company’s goal is to develop solar at all scales, in conjunction with other renewable resources. SunPower continues to expand its dealer/partner network around the world, as well as its systems business, which builds large-scale systems. SunPower is finding increasing interest among utilities for large-scale systems, especially in the United States where Renewable Portfolio Standards are driving rapid solar adoption among utilities.

 

How much has the current economic downturn been affecting SunPower?

 

The current economic downturn has affected SunPower in securing credit for its large commercial customers. However, as an established company, SunPower has secured agreements with banks such as Wells Fargo, to help finance customers’ solar installations.

 

How would you estimate your capability of sales and marketing? And what specific customer service does SunPower bring to its users?

 

SunPower has very robust sales and marketing activities. Earlier 2010, the company launched a new marketing campaign to make the promise of solar power a reality for everyday customers. Targeted to customers in the U.S., SunPower publicized its solar technology via billboards, radio ads, airport signage, online tools, and local transportation stations. The success of this program helped to raise SunPower brand awareness and customer leads for its dealer/partners.

For its residential and small commercial customers, SunPower has promoted its robust dealer network, working with more than 900 dealer/partners worldwide to generate customers’s leads in the residential and small commercial markets.

 

Who are your main customers? And how do you reach potential customers?

 

SunPower’s customers include homeowners, businesses and utility companies. For the residential and small commercial markets, the company works with its robust global dealer/partner network to provide them with customer leads generated from its marketing efforts. The dealers then go directly to these customers to install SunPower’s high-efficiency solar panels. For larger commercial and utility customers, SunPower works directly with the customer to design and install the most efficiency system that meets their needs. As a leader in providing the highest-efficiency solar systems today, SunPower’s reputation and brand helps customers with their choice to purchase these solar systems.

 

186-kilowatt SunPower system on the Canditfrucht juice factory in Messina, Italy: A SunPower T10 Solar Roof Tile was used for this installation.

 

Please introduce the short-term plan for SunPower in terms of both technology and business development. And what is your ultimate goal?

 

SunPower intends to offer solar power systems from rooftops to power plants that are competitive with conventional power options. In some parts of the world, that is already the case, and with public policy support in many countries around the world, SunPower’s products are affordable today. Within the next several years, solar will become competitive without incentives in most of the developed world at both the retail and wholesale level. As we reach those goals, solar will become a larger and larger part of the new power generation portfolio in each market.

 

In closing, tell us why customers should consider SunPower for solar system?

 

SunPower is “changing the way the world is powered” by dramatically scaling and lowering the cost of deploying solar power from rooftops to power plants. In less than five years, the company has commercialized the world’s highest-efficiency mass-market solar cells and become one of the world’s top five solar companies. SunPower has married its solar panels with systems technology that offer its customers the high-performance solar power plants for home, commercial, government, and utility customers on four continents. SunPower has a solid 25-year technology history and the future that offers customers the confidence to choose a SunPower system. And, with a 25-year warranty, customers have the peace of mind that their investment will keep providing them with a return year after year.

 

Amanda Kim is Senior Editor of InterPV. Send your comments to kbs@infothe.com.

 

 

For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

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     PETER BATCHELOR ON THE RENEWABLE ENERGY INDUSTRY

     BP SOLAR: Passion for Solar



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