Skip to main content

Back in Black – California solar manufacturer delivers a handsome 19.4% efficient panel

Solaria’s goal is to deliver a good looking solar panel. They also want their panels to have a high efficiency – at a reasonable price, of course.

The 19.4% monoPERC “PowerXT®-350R-PD” (manufacturer’s specification page) is where we see it happen.

Smartly applied all black shingled solar cells combined with a black frame, keep your curbside appeal up and your kilowatt hour production high.

Research shows that 40% of us value the look of solar panels first, and we also buy because those nearby us buy. We’ve talked about the fundamental technical value proposition of a shingled solar cells. But today we get to learn Solaria’s secret sauce, best described by themselves:

Solaria’s patented cell cutting and assembly form ‘high density’ sub-strings, larger than conventional solar cells, which are packed more efficiently and reduce inactive space between cells. By removing visual gaps between cells on the conventional modules (via filling it with solar cells), the PowerXT module provides a visually stunning appearance compared to any other solar system.

And here is the result up close:

You can see the individual shingles, and wonderfully – you can see how they nearly touch the aluminum edge of the solar panel itself. There’s almost no ‘inactive space’ between cells – meaning you get electricity production from the equivalent of 68 solar cells, but in a standard 60 solar cell footprint.

The all black panel seems like it’s absorbing so much light, it fades from view. Reminds me of the world’s ‘blackest’ material.

“We’re a module company, rather than a solar cell company. We’ve got a goal of finding the sweet spot between price performance and aesthetics” – General Manager, Dru Sutton said

Also notable – since there are no front facing busbars (metal on the front of a solar panel) – you get just a bit more sunlight hitting solar cells.

Solaria has been in the industry for over 10 years. It seems, their truest expertise is in developing the tools and processes that make modern technologies better.

The company first got in the solar industry producing low concentration solar panels – they textured the top layer of glass in a solar panel, and placed silicon solar cells in strips – instead of using full sized solar cells. The textures focus sunlight on the strips – increasing output, while using less silicon.

Saving money on silicon when it was much more expensive meant over 40,000kW of these modules were shipped (avg. residential system in the USA is about 5kW).

Eventually, the price of silicon and solar cells dropped significantly, the product line lost it’s profitability and the company had to adjust – but of course, in a technologically smart way.

Solaria developed solar tracking equipment to adjust solar panel direction and follow the sun – again, increasing the amount of energy that a solar panel would output. This tracker technology was bundled with Solaria’s PV panels, but eventually demand grew for just the tracker.

At this point the tracker technology has spun off into a separate company known as NextTracker – currently the largest tracker manufacturer in the world. Not bad for a side gig.

Solaria’s solar shingle manufacturing hardware is flexible. The factory line can adjust to accommodate off the shelf parts and any type of off PV cell, from n-type, to bifacial and anything else. Custom orders can, and are, processed.

The company buys regular, generally high efficiency, monoPERC solar cells. They feed them into their custom machine – that machines delivers the long, interconnected solar cells. The machine can be set in front of anyone’s solar panel line with proper tuning.

At first the product goal was to use as little silicon as possible, but these days it’s the opposite – we’re using our best manufacturing processes to include as much silicon as possible.

Solaria’s machines are currently sitting in front of two separate panel production lines – a 40MW/year line in Fremont, CA and a 60MW/year line in South Korea.

The company has plans for 200MW more solar production, headlines this morning talking about $23 million in funding for it. The location hasn’t been decided and will probably be heavily influenced by the Suniva decision.

Solaria was light on technical details – IP considerations are very much a sensitive topic right now – but I was given a high level:

Cells are put in the front end, and out comes the string. The materials is brittle and processes must be very accurate. There are inspection points in the middle. And you have to be able to do it really fast. Really, the key is that this process adds almost nothing to the cost of the module.

It was suggested that one person couldn’t keep up with the demands of loading a 40-60MW line, but that it would take a few – however, I definitely felt the team wouldn’t be large, again though, details were light to protect the knowledge.

Below: A solar power installation atop Cornell University with Solaria panels – integrated at time of design by Solaria’s Architectural Solutions group.

The warranty leads the industry – they give you 25 year hardware and production coverage. Most panels give 10-12 years on hardware, with the 25 year production. Then Dru told me why they could do it – ‘We engineered out the failure point of failed connections’ – in how we’ve attached our solar cells. Seriously – if there are fewer bus bars, no ribbon wires – then there’s less to get brittle and break.

If you’re considering solar panel level electronics – inverters or optimizers – as part of your solution, their frequently asked questions gives a handy compatibility chart:

If you visit Solaria’s office you might notice they’re a solar company. There are hundreds of solar panels on tracking systems next door, plus additional panels on their building’s roof – in the array different panels being tested by Solaria’s scientists.  Also, they’ve also got twenty five EV charging spots – which, Dru says, are often packed because there are ~40 EV drivers that work in the building.

I hope you noticed the Roadster…

The reason I spoke with Dru for this article, is because when I wrote Solaria and asked some questions – Dru answered. He told me he’s a big Electrek reader – and, drum rolls please, he’s got 400,000 pure EV miles. Not to mention – he owned TWO EV1s, and has a Model 3 reservation.

Makes me feel warm and fuzzy that there is science beyond just silicon that can bend our energy transition forward. Of course, manufacturers are still increasing silicon. But seriously – perovskite is going to add 3-8% efficiency to our solar panels sometime in the next few years, heterojunction is looking to fight for the same space and quantum dots want to add a few points more before we throw glass on glass bifacial products into the mix.

The innovation in the industry is broad and efficiency gains are all around us right now.

Considering residential solar? Understand Solar will connect you with local contractors, Tweet Me an I’ll give you some feedback or allow me to give you a professional residential consultation that will save you money.

For more electric vehicle, autonomous transport and clean technology news, make sure to follow us on TwitterNewsletterRSS or Facebook to get our latest articles.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

Stay up to date with the latest content by subscribing to Electrek on Google News. You’re reading Electrek— experts who break news about Tesla, electric vehicles, and green energy, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow Electrek on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our YouTube channel for the latest reviews.