U.S.’s SunPower announced yesterday (Sept. 15) that it surpassed a significant milestone in photovoltaic (PV) production, manufacturing its 1 billionth solar cell. While just a number, it represents significant growth in the industry and that in conjunction with the company’s new 350-megawatt manufacturing facility (coming online soon), show that an industry many feared was on the ropes in the U.S. a few years back is still kicking.
SunPower is a relatively unique company among solar companies in that it’s vertically integrated. The company produces its own modules and installs solar power across all the spectrum. It’s developed some of the world’s largest solar projects, but it also offers residential solar financing.
"SunPower is proud of the role we've played to help the global adoption of solar, which, over the past 11 years has experienced a 45 percent annual growth rate resulting in nearly 155 gigawatts of installed power capacity today. This is enough to offset the electricity needs of over 25 million homes," said Tom Werner, SunPower president and CEO. "The SunPower team has worked continually to improve our manufacturing and cost reduction processes in concert with advancements in research and development, always raising our own innovation bar. Solar is now more affordable, with demand for the residential, commercial and utility scale power plant markets at historic highs."
The company began manufacturing its current iteration of solar cells, the A-300, in 2003 and began manufacturing them in the Philippines in 2003. That’s also when the company began producing its A-300 PV cells, which were about 20 percent efficient at the time.
The PV cells are unique among most other crystalline-silicon PV technologies in that the metal conductors are located on the back of the cell, allowing more sunlight to hit the cell’s surface. That technology was co-developed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Since launching the A-300 PV cell, SunPower has increased the performance of the solar cell and its production commercially produced PV cells are now up to 24.2 percent efficient at converting sunlight into electricity.
SunPower has two fabrication plants in the Philippines as well as a jointly owned plant with Flextronics in California. Together the plants will produce approximately 1.3 gigawatts of solar cells by the end of this year. However, to meet growing demand for the company is building a new 350 megawatt fabrication plant in the Philippines which is expected to start production in early 2015.
Looking ahead the company anticipated that in 2015 it will start producing PV modules with an average conversion efficiency of 23 percent (some of the efficiency of converting sunlight to electricity is lost from transferring energy from the cell to the to module).Tweet