Gone are the days of the simple solar panel. Now, in order to compete, your panel must have advanced features. These are features such as back contacts, super thin and many busbars, half cut cells, PERC, and heterojunction. As well, if you’re selling to residential customers – your panel must be beautiful.
Solaria makes an all black, 370 watt 20% efficiency (pdf specification page) solar panel for customers who demand an aesthetically pleasing product. The company was founded in California and manufactures their product in multiple global locations. pv magazine USA sat down with CEO Suvi Sharma (below image) at Solar Power International 2019 in Salt Lake City this year to gain some perspective on the three areas the company is focusing on for future development.
First off, Sharma sought to remind us that Solaria is, at heart, an engineering company who seeks to make not the standard cutter product, but one for the aforementioned market niche. And while Solaria doesn’t see aesthetics as the number one driver of the solar decision, with project economics being number one, they do find that aesthetics are the number one deterrent of installing solar.
And research in the Netherlands backs this up (below image), with aesthetics as the greatest variable for 40% of buyers once the economics gets into a reasonable range. After the original batch, 32% are “choosy” with many variables pushing them one way or another and the final 28% looking aggressively at cost.
And that’s why one of Solaria’s three future focuses are making the product better looking. Sharma said the company was going at it from a few angles. The company still feels that solar panels on top of rails is going to be the biggest market. With that angle, they’re working with railing manufacturers to make their product more low profile, adding black edging and increasing the volume of AC modules in the market. With those three refinements, the Sharma finds that they can get “85-90% of the way”.
However, there are customers who want more – and those customers go two angles. The first is doing solar along with a re-roof, in which black shingles are chosen to match the solar panels (below example). A second but more complex technique that seemingly can only occur at time of construction, is to get rid of racking entirely, and integrate the panels into the roof so that the edge of the hardware doesn’t rise above roofing materials.
The second focus is increasing efficiency, and while Sharma wouldn’t give this nudgy and pushy reported any specific efficiency details, he did say that “in 3-4-5 years 370 watt solar panels will be old time”. And this might be a good time to note that one of the killer features of the Solaria solar module is that the solar cells are shingled, completely overlapping each other. This overlapping does two very important things – first – the module is all black, with no white spaces in between, making for a hard to photograph, but very clean looking product. And the second is that a shingled solar cell module has, compared to older modules, an equivalent of 68 to 69 solar cells worth of silicon facing the sun versus the standard 60 solar cell module. This means more wattage from the same sized solar panel.
The third focus is the Solaria Power Home that is designed from the ground up considering its energy future. This means solar at time of construction, car chargers, AC modules, and components and visuals considered with design on the mind. This saves money, and suddenly makes solar not a question of yay or nay on looks, but to many, a technologically beautiful marvel of modernity.
The product comes with the standard 25 year power production warranty, but also a 25 year hardware warranty that includes the cost of the truck roll when the solar panels are found at fault. Sharma says their confidence in their product, and the processes that have put them in a leading engineering position with shingled solar cells – greater than 400 related patents – let’s them offer that type of support.
With all of this beauty, they’re also growing, recently reaching nearly 500 MW of annual global manufacturing capacity. They’ve doubled the size of the sales teams across the USA, and just yesterday announced the hiring of new executives.
Good times at Solaria.