‘Shingle cell’ P-Series solar panel from SunPower maximizing polysilicon efficiencies

SunPower’s stock jumped 12% on Monday partially because an analyst is highly impressed with the sales opportunity of the P Series solar panel.

The solar panel raises efficiency partially through the use of a weird $9 trick – shingling solar cells – to maximize direct sunlight on silicon. The new panel could be built in the world’s largest capacity solar panel factory.

Some of the patents for the panel came from Cogenra, based in Fremont, CA. The result of these patents was a 15% increase in panel level efficiency with improved reliability and shade tolerance. SunPower acquired Congenra in 2015, and its this technology that is now being incorporated into its SunPower P Series (spec page pdf). SunPower launched the commercial market focused P Series in 2015.

Analysts are highly interested in the sales potential of the product because of its pricing advantages by using lower efficiency/cheaper multi-crystalline solar cells on the market. SunPower has had profitability challenges in years past with its ultra high-efficiency, high cost product. P-Series panels should be available in large quantities at around 75¢/W – while the higher efficiency product SunPower is known for sells for well above $1/W.

Even with the lower efficiency solar cells based on multi-silicon, the product still breaks 17% panel efficiency. First, by shingling the solar cell we eliminate the spaces between the solar cells. In an article written a few weeks ago wrote about a manufacturer increasing the number of cells in the panel by eight to cover nearly 100% of the front side of the solar panel for only $9. They suggested solar panel efficiency increases ranging from 5-17%, depending on the type of solar cell used.

The second technique to push the efficiency is by moving ribbons and solder bands from the front of the solar panel to the back. This technique was made use of in the recent offering that we covered from LG in their Neon R Black product. SunPower has a history of doing this with their other panel lines as well.

Analysts are also pleased with the factory level cost structure of the P-Series panel as manufacturing lines can be built at a capital cost of $0.10 per watt, compared to the high-end X-Series which is as much as $0.65 per watt. Investors noted it was intimidating to build new SunPower factories at a cost of $185 million to $230 million, as specialist factories by companies like SunPower only last about 10 years before becoming obsolete.

SunPower announced an agreement with Dongfang Electric and silicon giant Zhonghuan Semiconductor to build a factory with 21 production lines and 5GW of annual manufacturing capacity. When the deal was announced early in 2017, the reporting on it noted it might be the largest facility on the planet when complete. The venture is called DZS Solar.

A second recent investment made by SunPower was in a monoPERC solar cell manufacturing facility that builds 1.2GW of cells per year. SunPower hopes to introduce a second version of the P Series, called the P-19, that will use these higher efficiency solar cells to move from 17 to 19% efficiencies.

US-based Solaria recently settled a lawsuit with megaplayer GCL Poly Energy. Solaria also sued two other Chinese companies for the same reason. GCL and Solaria agreed on geographic distribution rights between the companies and possibly further involvement pushing sales and defending the patents of shingle cell products.

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