Overview of SunPower – Company History
SunPower was co-founded in April 1985 by Dr Richard Swanson a Professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford and is now an industry-leading residential and commercial solar panel brand name headquartered in San Jose, California. SunPower’s Maxeon 3 solar panel is currently the most efficient panel available on the Australian market.
In 2020, following a ~$300m investment from Tinajin Zhonghuan Seminconductor Co. (TZS), SunPower split into SunPower and Maxeon Solar. It is Maxeon Solar who is now the company that manufactures the solar panels, although the branding remains as Sunpower. Maxeon Solar is headquarted in Singapore and has manufacturing facilities located in France, Malaysia, Mexico, China and the Philippines. It is expected this split and utilisation of TZS’ low-cost manufacturing processes through-out Asia will enable the cost of Sunpower’s panels to drop.
SunPower only sells their panels through to authorised installers rather than using wholesalers or distributers. Most servicing will be completed by the company that installs your system but SunPower do have an Australian office located in Elsternwick which can be contacted on a toll free number (1800 786 769).
Interestingly, a SunPower solar panel powered car won the World Solar Challenge race across Australia in 1993. SunPower has also supplied solar panels to space stations through a number of projects with NASA over the past 25 years.
Key Panel Indicators
SunPower Solar Panels
|Bloomberg Tier 1 Ranking||
|PV Evolution Labs Top Performer||
|Office location in Australia||
What is a Bloomberg Tier 1 Solar Panel?
Bloomberg’s infamous tier 1 ranking is NOT a measure of Solar Panel quality in any way. It is simply an indication of the bankability of the manufacturer based on publicly released information on the financial health the company. This should give you an idea if the company is a large, well-known manufacturer.
What is PV Evolution Labs Top Performer?
PV Evolution Labs with support from DNV GL independently test solar panel reliability. The tests are voluntary, with solar panel manufacturers paying to participate in the testing. This testing process is internationally renowned and is an accurate reflection of the solar panel’s performance.
SunPower Solar Panels are currently ranked in the PV Evolution Labs Top Performers across 5 of the 6 annual tests in the latest report.
Why is office location in Australia Important?
Most solar panel manufacturers entering the Australian market, first setup their distribution channels and worry about customer service later. This has led to many unhappy customers who are left trying to contact Chinese head offices to claim on their 10-year product warranty.
Relying on your solar installer is not always an option as we’ve seen many residential solar installers (including the large ones) go out of business well within the lifetime of the systems they are installing.
SunPower has an Australian office located in Elsternwick, Victoria.
How much do SunPower Solar Panels cost?
Based on Solar Choice’s database we have provided the below average costs as an indicative guide. These prices include:
- Full turnkey Solar System with SunPower Solar Panels
- Installation from a pre-vetted reputable installer from Solar Choice’s network
- The STC rebate and GST
|System Size||Average Fully Installed Cost|
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SunPower – Points of Difference
In 2019 SunPower released the first 400Wp residential solar panel, the SunPower Maxeon 3. This panel is currently (July 2020) the most efficient residential solar panel in the world with 22.6% efficiency. The Maxeon 2 and Performance 3 solar panels also have impressive efficiency ratings of 20.4% and 19.9% respectively.
Low Return Rate
Maxeon technology panels claim to have an expected useful life of 40 years and a return rate of less than 0.005% on over 15 million panels. This supports their industry leading product warranty of 25 years.
IBC Solar Cells
The SunPower Maxeon Series consists of interdigitated back contact (IBC) solar cells. IBC technology utilises back contact energy conversion instead of the standard front contact conversion. This enables the cell to absorb more sunlight as the cells don’t have grid lines. The cells sit on a tin-copper metal system, this provides increased resistance to corrosion in comparison to the metal paste used in conventional panels. The cells are joined together by thick triple-redundant connectors, this manages the expanding and contracting of cells due to temperature changes.
Typically solar panels degrade at 2.5% in the first year of operation and 0.7% for each year thereafter. That means a typical 25 year solar panel performance warranty will guarantee aroung 80%-82% of their nameplate rating after 25 years. The Maxeon series is warrantied to degrade at a maximum of 0.25% a year leading to an industry leading 25 year guarantee of 92%. Although the difference might be fairly small in the early years, the addtional savings will add up through the lifetime of the project.
Model Range Available in Australia
These are the following models:
SunPower Maxeon 2 340-360Wp
SunPower Maxeon 3 370Wp
SunPower Maxeon 3 390-400Wp
SunPower Performance 3 315-335Wp
SunPower Performance 310-335Wp
SunPower Solar Panel Specifications
|SunPower Maxeon 3||SunPower Maxeon 2||SunPower Performance 3|
|Cell Number||104 Cells||104 Cells||Shingled Cells|
|Cell Type||Monocrystalline Maxeon Gen III||Monocrystalline Maxeon Gen II||Monocrystalline PERC|
|Rated Voltage||65.8 V||59.1 V||36.8 V|
|Power Density||226.28 W/m²||203.65 W/m²||198.62 W/m²|
|Annual Power Degradation||0.25%||0.25%||0.5%|
|Dimensions||1690 x 1046 x 40mm
|1690 x 1046 x 40mm
|1690 x 998 x 35mm
|Product Warranty||25 years||25 years||25 years|
|Performance Warranty||25 years||25 years||25 years|
|Operational Temperature Range||-40°C to 85°C
|-40°C to 85°C
|-40°C to 85°C
|Made in||Philippines||Malaysia||Not Published|
Conclusion: Should You Buy SunPower Solar Panels?
If you can afford it – absolutely. SunPower solar panels are definitely one of the best options in the Australian market (there is a good argument to say SunPower Maxeon 3 panel is the best). You would be getting top of the line specifications across efficiency, temperature characteristics, power degradation and an excellent warranty offer. The only caveat is whether the quote you get will be within your budget.
Hopefully with the splitting of manufacturing arm to Maxeon Solar and utilisation of low-cost manufacturing techniques the SunPower solar panels will become affordable for everyone without sacrificing their leading position on quality and durability.
Example of a SunPower Commercial Solar Project
An example of a large scale SunPower installation is the Sunraysia Solar Farm located near Balranald in southern NSW. This utility-scale solar panel farm will have over 750,000 of SunPower’s 19% efficient Performance Series modules. The panels will cover an area of 10km² and the farm is estimated to generate approximately 255MWDC of electricity, which is enough to power more than 50,000 homes. The solar construction company Decmil has designed and is building the farm. The project is due to be completed in 2020.
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