SunPower cells, modules to be excluded from the Trump tariffs

sunpower logo

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative filed a decision to exclude certain interdigitated back contact (IBC) solar cells and modules within specific size and power ranges from the Trump solar tariffs imposed in January, which includes SunPower’s IBC cells and modules. SunPower Chairman and CEO Tom Werner had this to say:

“With today’s decision that SunPower’s highly differentiated IBC cells and modules are excluded from tariffs, we are able to turn the page.

“SunPower can now fully focus our resources to deliver the best solar solutions to our customers, develop the next wave of solar technology through American research and development and invest in American solar manufacturing. This will support U.S. solar technology leadership and preserve American jobs. To this end, we are continuing with our planned acquisition of the SolarWorld Americas manufacturing facility in Hillsboro, Oregon and expect the transaction to close before the end of the quarter.

“SunPower’s 33 years of technology innovation and solar industry leadership are an integral part of the story around America’s energy evolution. We appreciate the Administration’s thorough review and consideration on this matter, and believe this outcome supports common goals of technology innovation, economic prosperity, energy independence, and U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace.”

sb-econference-web-post

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar coaster news roundup: SolarCity layoffs, SunPower exits utility-scale, Enphase in trouble?

solar industry layoffs

The solar installer base has strengthened across the country, but the largest companies still loom largest. When they sneeze, the industry catches a cold. Here are some of the latest comings and goings at the top of the market following first-half earnings calls.

SolarCity cut backs

Tesla closed a dozen solar installation facilities around the country as part of a round of layoffs this summer, according to Reuters, in California, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Arizona, and Delaware. The installation facility closures leave the company with about 60 solar installation facilities nationwide. The laid off workforce includes installers, telemarketers, and customer service personnel. Tesla is also pulling out of its Home Depot deal.

Does this spell trouble for SolarCity / Tesla? Well, not necessarily. The company is saying this is part of its reorganization efforts after acquiring SolarCity last year – the closings are all SolarCity-specific locations. Since the acquisition, Tesla has been streamlining and combining more of the two companies’ portfolios.

SunPower leaves utility-scale, Enphase acquires microinveter business

The SunPower fit in the utility-scale market never made a ton of sense, and with PPA prices falling as far as they have, SunPower announced it was leaving that space to focus on residential and commercial and industrial projects, with an eye on growth in both storage and services.

“We see the North American distributed generation market really evolving over the next two years, from just solar, to solar-plus-storage, then eventually to solar-plus-storage-plus-services,” said CEO Tom Werner.

The company also sold its microinverter business to Enphase Energy, Inc. for a total of $25 million in cash. This is going to boost the AC Modules market with SunPower’s Equinox Home Solar System now coming with a custom line of Enphase’s IQ microinverters.

“We are excited to close the acquisition of SunPower’s microinverter business ahead of plan,” said Badri Kothandaraman, president and CEO of Enphase Energy. “We now expect volume shipments of IQ 7XS microinverters in the fourth quarter of 2018 and an acceleration of the ramp throughout 2019. The business is on track to achieve its full revenue and gross margin potential. ACM is a significant component of our profitable top line growth strategy. We look forward to being a strong innovation partner for SunPower.”

Speaking of Enphase…

Prescience Point Capital Management, a private investment manager that focuses on investigations of public companies, published a negative follow-up report to support its short position on Enphase. Since the release of its initial report on Enphase, Prescience Point has identified numerous additional red flags which further call into question the reliability of the company’s financial statements. Here are the bullets from the report:

  • Our analysis of ENPH’s Q2’18 results indicates further doubt on the reliability of its financial statements.
  • Management tried to explain away some of the red flags highlighted in our Initiation Report; however, management’s explanations in some cases conflict with statements previously made on the record and in other cases defy logic.
  • Despite our doubts about the reliability of its accounting, ENPH still missed Q2 consensus estimates and whiffed on guidance. The 12.9% and 8.9% YoY decline in ENPH’s Q2’18 inverter volume and adjusted revenue, respectively, indicate that its business is deteriorating at a faster pace than we initially thought.
  • According to sources, former SunEdison CEO Ahmad Chatila is currently working for ENPH. ENPH appears to have adopted many of the same practices which ultimately led to SUNE’s downfall.
  • Prescience Point reiterates our estimate that Enphase stock is worth ~$1/share on a fundamental basis, implying 80% downside.

— Solar Builder magazine

SunPower’s highest efficiency solar panels to debut at Intersolar Europe this week

sunpower logo

SunPower will formally introduce its highest efficiency X-Series residential solar panel this week during Intersolar Europe in Munich, Germany. At 370-watts and 22.7-percent efficiency, it is the most efficient solar panel that customers can buy for their home today.

“By engineering greater efficiency solar panels, we can fit more watts on the roof in the same amount of space when compared to conventional solar, offering customers the best value for energy,” said Gabi Bunea, SunPower vice president, research and development.

The 370-watt X-Series solar panel offers 60 percent more power than a conventional solar panel from the same amount of roof space over 25 years. It only takes 15 SunPower panels to produce as much energy as 22 conventional panels, which means homeowners require fewer panels to generate an equal amount of electricity. Made with third-generation SunPower Maxeon solar cells that are built on a solid metal foundation for high reliability and performance, SunPower panels are virtually impervious to the corrosion and cracking that typically degrade conventional panels allowing the company to offer an industry-leading 25-year Combined Power and Product Warranty.

“In mature solar markets such as Europe, our customers expect high-quality, proven technology, and we’re meeting those demands with SunPower’s record-setting solar panels,” said Chris de Jong, director of Netherlands’ Isogoed Duurzaam Besparen B.V. and one of SunPower’s 1,400 installation partners operating around the world. “We look forward to helping more homeowners save on monthly electric bills with a growing range of high-efficiency, reliable solar solutions from SunPower.”

In addition, this year SunPower is expanding its suite of residential solar solutions for homeowners in EMEA and parts of APAC with the P-19 Series (P-19) solar panel offering 19 percent efficiency, which is currently available to commercial customers in select APAC markets. Engineered with the same innovative shingled cell design as the 17-percent efficient P-Series solar panel used in commercial applications, P-19 uses monocrystaline PERC solar cells to generate up to 32 percent more energy in the same space over 25 years when compared to conventional panels. The P-19 solar panel is a lower cost option compared to SunPower’s E-Series and X-Series panels, yet still delivers high quality and reliability to customers, and is also backed by SunPower’s 25-year Combined Power and Product Warranty.

— Solar Builder magazine

Rolling Large: Roll-forming leader OMCO rolls out its new factory-direct racking

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design incorporates value-added touches that leverage its OEM factory-direct capability.

In this uncertain #TrumpTariffs market, many investors have less appetite for newer, less proven systems, seeing that as another avenue of risk in projects where pennies and seconds count more than ever. This puts the spotlight on companies and products that can deliver the most certainty in terms of upfront costs, bankability and logistics. Given that context, the 2018-’20 market may not be interested in a new ground-mount PV concept, but the new Field-Fast system from OMCO is an exception that checks all of those boxes and more.

OMCO is one of those companies that’s been around for decades, supplying more product in the background than you realize. A roll-former that has cultivated relationships with U.S. steel providers since the 1950s, OMCO has provided nearly 8 GW of solar currently in the ground across the globe, working with industry giants like First Solar and Sunpower as a contract manufacturer. So, the history and bankability is there.

It wasn’t until last year that OMCO decided to jump from more of a supporting actor to leading man with the Field-Fast fixed-tilt system. The design is influenced by its years of experience and incorporates value-added touches that leverage its OEM factory-direct capability, such as pre-assembly and less loose hardware. In large-scale solar projects, small improvements can add up to sizable savings.

Now a year after its launch and after a few revisions (a pre-assembled tilt bracket, for instance), OMCO has launched the Field-Fast system into the market. Let’s take an in-depth look at how it works and why it might benefit your next project.

Inside Field-Fast

The key advantage in ordering direct from the factory is reducing the filler material by preassembling as much as possible. The provided Field-Fast parts are boiled down to only five bill of material items vs. multiple pages of line items. Hardware arrives to the site pre-sorted and counted specific to each block for quick staging and identification.

“On the EPC side, probably the biggest headache, as a customer is the number of moving parts,” says Eric Goodwin, director of business development from OMCO Solar, who spent part of his career leading the EPC supply chain team for First Solar. “Construction teams always lose hardware or lose track of something, and the next thing you know 60 people are waiting around for a bolt to arrive. We’ve tried to address those types of issues.”

The assembly bracket ships as a slim component that unfolds and notches into the tilt bracket. This is secured by an OMCO-designed, preassembled clip that is hammered into place in four locations. Done. That all happens at ground-level with two workers.

After placing a rubber pad over pre-installed threaded fasteners, the modules are slipped into preassembled clips and laid on top. The clips already have a bolt retained inside, and the table module rails already contain the threads for the clip, which means only one worker is needed to secure the panel, working from standing-level and never above the glass. Two clips are needed for completing the assembly of two modules.

Further smoothing out any logistics kinks: OMCO has four manufacturing sites spread across the country — Phoenix; Wickliffe, Ohio; Talladega, Ala.; and Pierceton, Ind. — compressing freight times and keeping costs low for the entire system.

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

Saving studies

The company recently conducted assembly time trials of the new Field-Fast racking, and, with just two installers, here were the results for structural assembly (each set consisting of 10 panels and 300 Watts between two posts):

  • Man hours per set: 0.304
  • Burdened labor rate:$40
  • Labor efficiency:85%
  • Cycle time per set: 465 seconds
  • Sets per hour: 7
  • Sets per shift: 49
  • Labor cost per watt: $0.0041

Next comes the module installation for the same two installers on the same labor rate and efficiency:

  • Man hours per set: 0.200
  • Cycle time per set: 306 seconds
  • Modules per hour: 100
  • Watts per hour: 30,000
  • Labor costs per watt: $0.0027
  • Module + BOS costs per watt: $0.0068

Stacked against installation of conventional systems, the Field-Fast racking can reduce costs per watt from 35 to 50 percent.

“With fewer parts and installation steps, we basically can cut the install time in half in some cases,” Goodwin says. “On the mechanical BoS part of an install, which is the racking itself, we’re able to show about 40 percent labor efficiency on a cost per watt, so our actual labor cost per watt for mechanical is about .4 cents per watt, and that’s about 20 percent less than we’re seeing in the market for racking. On the panel installation, those have taken labor costs down to .2 cents per watt.”

OMCO can also handle the purlins and turnkey construction services, but this isn’t just another tale of faster turn times and reduced costs. Ordering factory-direct snips out other possibilities for delays, such as last second module changes.

“We can adjust our roll-form program for any size framed module [including the new First Solar Series 6] for Field-Fast,” Goodwin says. “We know of projects where modules change last second because of prices, and we’re able to make those changes and adjust to that. That can be difficult if you’re having it fabricated elsewhere.”

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

First Solar ecosystem

As mentioned, OMCO is part of the First Solar ecosystem and has a slick module interface bracket (MIB) for First Solar tracker projects as well as an OEM fixed-tilt solution for Series 4 modules with nearly 5 GW of the baseline design installed. The MIB arrives to the jobsite fully assembled — the structural components, module clips, threaded hardware, rubber inserts. It slips on over the torque tube with a single carriage bolt fixing it in place.

“The unexpected increase and extension of Series 4 module life was a nice surprise. We have designed a product for almost 6 GW of First Solar projects, and the Field-Fast series is even more tailored to Series 6 when it comes out.”

Being a First Solar ecosystem partner is just another notch in its bankable, tariff-free value proposition. As First Solar scales and increases production into 2019 and 2020, OMCO is looking to capitalize, no matter what the new steel tariff brings.

This feature was in the May/June 2018 issue of Solar Builder magazine. Sign up for your free print or digital subscription here.

— Solar Builder magazine

SunPower buys SolarWorld Americas to ramp up P-Series panel production

sunpower logo

In the latest episode of As the Solar Industry Turns, SunPower is acquiring 100 percent of SolarWorld Americas. You may recall SolarWorld Americas being one of the companies that hit a rough patch and filed a 201 trade petition that launched the #TrumpTariffs now in place. SunPower plans to inject fresh capital into the SolarWorld Americas facility and implement high-efficiency P-Series solar panel manufacturing technology.

“The time is right for SunPower to invest in U.S. manufacturing, and SolarWorld Americas provides a great platform for us to implement our advanced P-Series solar panel manufacturing technology right here in our home market,” said Tom Werner, SunPower CEO and chairman of the board. “P-Series technology was invented and perfected in Silicon Valley, and will now be built in SolarWorld Americas’ factory, helping to reshape solar manufacturing in America.”

SunPower plans to ramp SolarWorld Americas operations to capitalize on strong U.S. market demand. The company will invest in factory improvements and increased working capital, while retrofitting a portion of the facility to produce P-Series solar panels, in addition to continuing to produce and ship SolarWorld Americas’ legacy products. Like SolarWorld Americas, SunPower has spent decades perfecting its technology and manufacturing processes, and this announcement marks the company’s return to U.S. manufacturing. The agreement is subject to necessary U.S. and German regulatory approvals and other closing conditions. At closing, which is expected in the next several months, SunPower will become the largest U.S. solar panel manufacturer.

“This is a smart move for SunPower,” said Vikram Aggarwal, CEO and founder of EnergySage. “As our latest report shows, SunPower has typically been the most expensive panel brand offered to consumers, while SolarWorld has been among the lowest priced. This acquisition gives SunPower the ability to better serve both quality-driven and price-conscious consumer segments, particularly those looking for American-made products. It should also help the company minimize the impact of Trump’s solar tariff.”

“SunPower is the solar industry technology leader,” said Jürgen Stein, CEO of SolarWorld Americas. “We are delighted that SunPower has agreed to inject fresh capital and their industry leading P-Series technology into SolarWorld Americas operations here in Hillsboro. Our hundreds of long-time employees are excited to be part of this next chapter in SolarWorld Americas’ long history. We are thrilled about this acquisition as it means quite simply, that our company can look forward to redoubled strength as it continues to innovate and expand into the future. This outcome is ideal for SolarWorld Americas and its employees.”

 

— Solar Builder magazine