If you have seen one solar module, have you seen them all? Many in the solar industry have long argued that solar panels are a commodity, interchangeable at the whim of the developer. We have strongly disagreed, but we conceded that the market has not agreed with us. All you need to do is ask the many companies who fill the halls of bankruptcy courts around the country and abroad about the market forces that drove them out of business. This argument has been settled—until Tom Woody authored a New York Times article that solar panel quality is a growing concern within the solar industry. Maybe the world is beginning to agree with us, but in any event, you should become an educated consumer as you look at which panels to put on your roof for the next 25 years.
Posts Tagged ‘solar panel’
We changed gears somewhat this week and attended the Sixth Annual Aid and International Development Forum (AIDF) being held here in Washington D.C. Some of the manufacturers whose products we represent at SolarTown such as Voltaic Systems with its solar bags and Sun Danzer with its solar refrigerators were there to show how their products have an important role to play in helping countries develop and saving lives. You don’t believe that solar fridges can keep critical medicines safe. Well, think again, as this solar vaccine refrigerator has been pre-qualified by the World Health Organization and has undergone rigorous testing. There are many other applications of solar energy to the developing world such as solar lights and solar battery chargers, which can provide a lifeline to those living off the grid throughout the world.
Innovation is often seen as the way to the future for solar energy. Everybody sees the value of solar panels on rooftops or in fields, but they also see the huge price tag attached to solar energy. Prices have dropped substantially in the past couple of years, mainly because of the Chinese entry and domination of the solar panel industry (and some will say unfair dumping of cheap modules onto the U.S. market). But that still leaves the question of the extent to which innovation plays a role in the developing solar industry. The Wide Lens, a recent book by Dartmouth professor Ron Adner, should be required reading for the up and coming solar equipment manufacturers.
New Look for SolarTown Learning Center: Learn the Ins and Outs of Solar Policy and Solar Energy ProductsMonday, January 30th, 2012
One of our primary goals at SolarTown is to educate consumers on solar energy in general and solar energy products in particular. We know that you have perused the over thousand solar energy products that we are selling. We hope that you have also spent some time at SolarTown’s Learning Center to learn about solar power products. We know that our customers like our Learning Center, but as the number of articles has ballooned, it has become more unwieldy to navigate. We have put in a new interface to allow you to click on the category that you are looking for.
Did you catch the State of the Union address last night? Hurray for renewable energy, but it is a speech that he could have given two years ago, pre-Solyndra. But a lot has happened in the last two years. In mild understatement, Obama conceded that, “Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail.” And some companies fail in a big way. Now the demise of Solyndra will be a big campaign issue, regardless of the merits of whether the federal government should have provided a loan guarantee to Solyndra. This accommodation of fossil fuel is simply recognition that this country will be dependent on non-renewable sources of energy for decades to come. Whether Obama’s moderate energy vision will gain any traction in an election year is a matter of considerable dispute. We shouldn’t lose hope that some energy policy will emerge, but don’t count on much progress in this election year.
The loud sucking noise you hear is the sound of solar manufacturing going overseas. If it were not clear before this month, it is now abundantly evident that manufacturing of solar panels that you may want to put on your home in the United States are not going to come from the US anymore. The trend of manufacturing of solar panels in China is only accelerating as the news in the past few weeks has shown. The evidence is plastered on every news release—we surrender and are leaving town fast. BP Solar hammered shut its operations in Maryland. Evergreen Solar filed for bankruptcy. And now Solon is closing its US plant. Solar panels are not like nails or screws, but more akin to refrigerators or dish washers—consumers pay more for quality and features. We still hold that view and will advise our customers to shop wisely and look at various criteria to rate solar modules, and of course one of those is cost, but that should not be the end all. The market, as shown by the flight of solar manufacturing, is going elsewhere. Thinning margins means a commodity market and the Chinese are willing to tough it out in the long to capture the lion’s share of the business. The future for manufacturing of solar panels in the United States is bleak.
Starting this week, SolarTown will offer a discount solar panel of the week. Every week on Monday, we will post a solar panel that offers great savings. This year, our distributors and vendors have been offering huge savings on solar modules as prices have continued to fall. And they offer to SolarTown discounts, which we are able to pass on to our customers. Some of our customers are most interested in the least expensive solar module that they can purchase. For those installers and contractors who are ready to purchase immediately, the discount solar module of the week will allow them to take advantage of deep discounts that are available while supplies last.
Enphase Energy just released its next generation microinverter. Let’s face it: Enphase is synonymous with microinverters. By continuing to release new solar inverters, Enphase is staying ahead of the competition—which is not insignificant. We have heard of at least twenty, that’s right, twenty other firms that are trying to home in on the microinverter market. They are of course correct, because the first-to-market advantage does not always last. At least today, Enphase seems to be doing everything right, generating over $60 million in sales last year and on target to ship their one millionth product in the coming months. Yesterday the announcement came that Enphase is seeking to raise a cool $100 million in an initial public offering. Money is flowing easily into the microinverter market as Enecsys, probably Enphase’s closest competitor, also raised $41 million in a series B round of financing. Enecsys likes to call its products micro inverters and sometimes micro-inverters. What’s there not to love about a product that converts the electrifying DC to AC right at the panel level (actually plenty according to the big central solar inverter companies, but that is another story). Enphase just released its new generation Enphase M215 microinverter, which we are already carrying at SolarTown. This latest microinverter product from Enphase will change how solar panels will be installed in your home solar system or commercial solar energy system.
I take no pride in writing this blog post about discount solar panels because no matter how hard we try to persuade our customers to look past cost, by and large, they are not convinced. In the last several months, the single most important criterion for our customers in purchasing home solar panels is price. There are numerous ways to differentiate solar modules. We have even introduced a solar panel comparison to alert you to significant differences in the panels that we sell. Of course, the essential difference is expected output, and you will want to look at efficiency and the PTC rating (PVUsa Test Conditions) to come up with an estimate of what your solar panels will produce over the life of the panels. There are other parameters that you may want to consider, such as size and weight. Aesthetics, that is the look of the panels, is no small matter if you live in a trendy area and your southern facing roof is visible from the street. But as we have been looking at the results from the past several months, we have noticed one unmistakable trend: our customers love low cost panels.