The Switch To SunPower

The Switch To SunPower

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Recently, we made the decision to switch to the SunPower Equinox System. This is the world’s only comprehensive solar system, with the solar panels, inverter, racking and monitoring listed as one UL product. This system boasts the new AC SunPower modules, with built-in micro inverters. Our decision to change our product line did not come lightly. This blog outlines how we went about this process and summarizes the results.

Our Process

Rayah has been using metrics in its decision-making processes for years.  In general, we try to establish a series of data points (or factors), and weigh each factor towards a final decision point. This metric based approach has helped us improve lots of little things over the years, and those little things add up.

I know some solar companies will say the panels don’t matter, especially in solar leasing, but it’s just not true. Would you trust a parachute given to you by the guy at a big-box-store,  or one given to you by a military paratrooper?   I think you would  trust the expert.

That’s how we feel about our products; we have to be the experts and truly believe in what we offer. After all, we are selling them to you, our customers, and we want to be able to deal with you honestly and with integrity.   We want to be able to look you in the eye and say, “This solar panel should last 40 years,” and wholeheartedly believe it.

In order for us to have that level of confidence, we compared ten leading solar panels on performance metrics. These solar panels were Hyundai, LG, Q-Cell, Solar World, Canadian Solar, Trina, Ying Li, Axitec, Panasonic, and SunPower.  These panels were compared along the following metrics:

  1. Value: Cost vs. Customer Savings
  2. Power Production/Efficiency
  3. Aesthetics
  4. Technology
  5. Durability/Reliability
  6. Company/Bankability
  7. Warranty

When we began our investigation, we thought that certain panels would perform better in certain areas, and others in other areas.  After our investigation, we planned to select the solar panel  with the best overall score.  Surprisingly, one solar panel won every single category, and in some metrics, by leaps-and-bounds. That panel was SunPower.  

It has been known for years that SunPower has the most efficient panels in the world, but what we didn’t know was that they outperformed the competition in all seven metrics. The following research outlines our discoveries:

Value: Customer Savings

Customer savings can be determined by comparing the panel cost versus the panel’s production. However, this involves a little more than dividing two numbers. You need to take into consideration the long term savings, which is affected by cell degradation, product life, and defects. On one hand, higher output panels allow customers to save more money off their electric bill.  In turn, some lower output panels have a better ratio of cost to power.   We used an algorithm consisting of panel cost, power output, degradation rate, defect rates, and product life to give us a “score.”

Please note, it was more difficult to model product defects as this data was not always available.

There were two separate results worth noting: 1) SunPower ranked slightly higher in homes with larger-than-average roofs and lower-than-average power bills. 2) SunPower ranked considerably higher with homes that had average roofs and average to high power bills. The reason for the savings gap was that if you have a larger roof and low power usage, you would have enough roof space to offset your entire electric bill with all the modules we tested. However, in reality, most normal homes do not fit into this category. Their roofs are not large enough to offset their entire bill with all tested modules. Therefore, from the average customer’s point of view, SunPower scored best because it could offset more electric usage, and hence, provide more savings.  

Power Production/Efficiency

There is an abundance of third-party test data showing SunPower as the world’s most efficient solar panels. We found some interesting tidbits in our research. For one, a SunPower panel can produce 60% more power on the same roof as a conventional solar panel. This means SunPower will allow you to use less roof space for future expansion; incase you decide to buy an electric car.

The test that blew me away was, when using the same kilowatt (KW) of power on a roof as a conventional panel, SunPower panels still produced 21% more power. In the solar industry, we have been using KW as our comparison standard for years. It is sort of like comparing an old 100-watt incandescent light bulb to a 40-watt incandescent light bulb. You knew the 100 watt would be brighter. But that all changed when CFL’s and LED’s hit the market.  Now an 8-watt LED would equal the brightness of a 60-watt incandescent.   We found the same was true when comparing SunPower watts to conventional panel watts. For example, a 6.5 KW LG or Hyundai system might produce 7,800 kWh in a year on a home with good solar access in the Boston area.  However, that same home with a 6.5 KW SunPower system might produce 8,775 kWh in the same year. That’s a thousand more kWh. That is also why a SunPower system on a home with a larger roof and lower electric bills still saves the homeowner more money.

Aesthetics

There were five factors in determining aesthetics; 1) Conductor Location and Appearance, 2) Color, 3) Backsheet, 4) Frame, and 5) Mounting.  Rather than boring you with the long explanation, here’s a brief summary of what we found: SunPower is the only panel in the world with backplate technology, which means it has no exposed conductors or connections on the front of the panel. Because of the quality of the silicon, SunPower cells either matched or beat all competitors in terms of appearance, with a clean black solar cell.  SunPower comes with the option of a black backsheet. This option, coupled with a black frame and black cell, gives it a sleek all-black appearance.  All other panels had front plate conducts. This means they have hundreds of silver lines on the front of their panels.  Lastly, SunPower uses an InvisiMount frame, which means there are no exposed rails or hardware on the roof. It literally looks like a floating black oasis.  In total, SunPower met or beat all competitors for aesthetics in categories two through five, and exclusively won aesthetics by having no exposed conductors.

TechnologySunPowerAC2

There is a vast ocean of solar panels that all use about the same technology. Then there are a few that use slightly better technology, such as LG or Q-cells.  But then again, there is SunPower with over 450 industry patents.  Those patents translated into stark differences to its competitors. SunPower’s patented maxeon cell technology is the world’s most efficient solar cell (that we knew), but it is also the only cell with wires on the backside. This gives it a more pleasing aesthetic  (as mentioned above), and also reduces shading on the solar cells, which in turn increases the solar panel’s efficiency.  The backplate technology also uses a patented solid copper sheet that makes the cells and cell connection points innumerably stronger than other solar cells in field and laboratory tests.  Admittedly, we knew SunPower would win this metric, but really – 450 patents!

Durability/Reliability

Durability and reliability were examined on two primary fronts; 1) published degradation rates, and 2) third-party field testing.  The average solar panel degradation rate is about .10% annually.  However, of the high quality panels we examined, the average degradation rate was  about .05%.  SunPower topped the list with a .01% degradation rate. That is 100 times better than average.  We were surprised to find that SunPower had won every published third party testing of panel durability or reliability performance.

In a former life, I worked for a US manufacturer in China.  I was fortunate enough to have some wonderful experiences with major manufacturers such as Sony, Brother, Cannon and others. Of all the companies I worked with, I was most impressed by Cannon.  When they do a run of one million Cannon printers, they regard it as a failed run if more than 20 printers had a defect.   SunPower has taken a similar approach.  Also, unlike most brands, SunPower published its defect rate, which was a whopping 22 in 1 million. That’s a defect rate of .00000022%.

The most staggering research study we found  concerned cell interconnection breakage. In lay terms, cell breakage means power cannot transfer from cell to cell. Third-party data showed that SunPower panels have an estimated 40-year lifespan, compared to a 20-25 year lifespan of the other solar panels.  This means that for 40 years, the SunPower panel will still produce at its estimated degradation rate, while all other panels will basically die by their mid twenties (this is due to the SunPower maxeon-cell technology with an integrated copper black plate).

Company/Bankability

Company and bankability examines the history, financial strength,  forecasted future, and market share of each company.  The first thing we found out is that SunPower is a US company. That means, when you buy SunPower, your money stays here. Of our seven solar panels, that was only true of Solar World and SunPower. Also, SunPower is the only solar manufacturer that has been around long enough to have outlived its 25 year panel warranty.  Most of the other companies, such as LG or Q-cell, have only been in the solar industry for a few years.  In every other aspect of this metric, SunPower truly outshines the other panels as they are publicly traded on the Nasdaq, they have more installed residential and commercial solar panels  than any other panels in the world, they are the largest solar manufacturer employer in the US,  they are owned and backed by Total, the 11th largest company in the world, and they are the only solar manufacturer or solar leasing company to be profitable to date . In fact, we found that almost all the other companies are losing money, and Ying Li was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Warranty

Typically, a solar warranty consists of two factors, Product and Performance. All the panels we ranked came with either a 10 or 12 year product warranty, that covers defects and a 25-year performance warranty.  Interestingly, SunPower’s warranty was much different. It had a 25 year warranty for both Product and Performance.  In addition, SunPower carried a Labor Warranty for 25 years. No other company carried any labor warranty.

To be honest, as someone that has been in the industry for years, I didn’t understand the magnitude of the difference between SunPower’s warranty and its competitors.  In addition to an extended product warranty,  the biggest difference with the SunPower warranty was that SunPower actually pays the shipping costs and the labor costs for the dealer to replace defective or underperforming products. This is huge!  ‘Cause let’s be honest, with other solar manufacturers , if a solar panel fails, even if the manufacturer sends us a replacement, Rayah would be installing it on our own dime!

We Made the Switch

After over six months of research and analysis, the truth was plain to see; SunPower was the only product that gave us the confidence to  look our customers in the eye and say, “this is the best product for you.”  We are not saying we don’t like the other products, heck we’ve sold a lot of them, but from now on, we are a SunPower dealer.

SunPower Shines Above the Rest

The following, sums up our research on SunPower:

  • More Customer Savings
  • More Power Generation
  • Less roof space needed: Good for future expansion
  • Reliability: Less defects & less degradation, which means More power over time with less equipment issues
  • 25/25/25 Warranty

We have coined the term the “Rayah Experience.” It’s about more than just great customer service; it’s the culmination of great products, quality installations, customer service and most importantly, treating our customers and vendors as close friends. So yes, if my best friend called me up today and said, “which panel would you use on your house, which solar panel do you recommend?” I would say, “SunPower!”

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Article Written By: Brad Stoler – Solar Consultant, Rayah Solar

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