s the world becomes increasingly aware of the importance of clean energy, the solar industry is booming, with new players emerging every day. However, one name that stands out from the crowd is SunPower - a company that is well known for its cutting-edge technology, top-of-the-line products, and exceptional customer service. From their high-end residential and commercial solar panels to their advanced solar energy storage solutions, SunPower is a leader in the industry. In this article, we'll explore whether the company's reputation for quality and innovation is worth the premium price tag. So, if you're considering investing in solar power, keep reading this SunPower solar panels review to discover whether their products are the right choice for you.
SunPower through the years: exploring the company's past
To provide some context for our review of SunPower panels, it's worth exploring the manufacturer's rich history, which is marked by a range of significant accomplishments and milestones over the course of several decades. The company was founded in 1985 by Richard Swanson, an electrical engineering professor at Stanford University. Initially called Eos, it was funded with a mere $2,000 in savings from Swanson and his friend Richard Crane. Four years later, Robert Lorenzini invested in the company, changed its name to SunPower, and became its chairman. In its early days, SunPower generated revenue through research grants and by creating silicon wafers for semiconductor companies.
In the 1990s, SunPower received funding from Associate Venture Investors and Technology Funding, and its solar technology was used to power innovative applications for solar race cars and airplanes. As demand for the company's products grew in the early 2000s, it set new world records in solar cell efficiency, achieved a successful IPO in 2005, and began volume production of its high-efficiency solar cells. SunPower also acquired PowerLight, resulting in a vertically integrated company that served residential, commercial, and utility-scale power plant markets.
Throughout the 2010s, SunPower continued to achieve significant accomplishments, such as launching the Equinox system, introducing the industry's first 400-plus-watt home solar panels, and partnering with Sierra Club for a new residential solar program. In 2019, SunPower revealed its plan to create a new business called Maxeon Solar Technologies, Ltd., based in Singapore, serving as its manufacturing division. And in February 2022, SunPower commercial and industrial divisions were purchased by its investor, TotalEnergies, for $250 million as the manufacturer reoriented towards residential solar installations.
Today, SunPower solar panels are known for exceptional efficiency, earning them recognition from reviewers as one of the best solar manufacturers worldwide. While their products are more costly than those of competitors, the lifespan and performance of SunPower panels are unmatched. The manufacturer only works with authorized dealers when selling their panels rather than wholesalers or distributors.
To enhance their reach in the Northwest and Mid-Atlantic regions of the US, SunPower acquired Blue Raven Solar in 2021. As a result, the company now ranks among the top five installers and has a 2.7% share of the US solar market.
The technology behind SunPower solar modules
Let's review what makes SunPower products stand out. Since the beginning of their PV module manufacturing in 2007, the company has utilized the Maxeon cell technology. This technology, which is a variant of the IBC (Interdigitated Back Contact) cell technology, has undergone six generations, with the Maxeon Gen 6 launched in 2022.
IBC cells differ from traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells their electric contacts are situated on the back of the cell. This design eliminates the presence of grid lines on the front of the panels, thus increasing efficiency by maximizing the cell areas exposed to sunlight. In fact, the efficiency of IBC SunPower solar cells is up to 20% higher compared to traditional PERC solar panels. IBC technology also prevents deterioration and power deficits caused by front contacts and solder bonds commonly found in conventional cells.
SunPower incorporates a grid of N- and P-type silicon on the backside of the IBC cell. The cells are constructed on a foundation of high-purity N-type silicon, which enhances performance and minimizes degradation. To increase the module's durability and resist corrosion from external elements, the company integrates a solid copper backing beneath the cells. SunPower also uses anti-reflective glass to reduce glare and losses resulting from sunlight reflecting away from the cells.
Review of SunPower solar panels
Let's review the SunPower solar panels in greater detail and highlight their key features. The panels provided by the manufacturer come in two categories: the Performance range (P series) and the Maxeon range. To compete in the premium end of the market, the Maxeon 2 and 3 series panels replaced the previous E and X series, both of which featured high-efficiency IBC cells. The new generation 5 and 6 series panel options include standard versions or an AC versions, which are equipped with Enphase Energy microinverters. Boasting a new, larger cell design, these modules are the most powerful and efficient released to date by the company.
In addition, SunPower has its own solar battery, the SunVault Storage, that collaborates with their solar panels to offer electricity to your residence when sunlight is low or during grid failures. When used with the SunPower mobile application, this solar battery enables constant supervision.
Maxeon 2: basic option with mid-level performance and wattage
Starting off our review is the Maxeon 2 panel, which incorporates the gen-3 IBC cell technology and a 104-cell format, resulting in a maximum efficiency of 20.4%. Nevertheless, it has a lower output rating of 340-360W compared to the company's other products. This is due to using IBC cells with lower specifications, allowing them to remain cost-effective while still providing high-efficiency solar panels for residential use.
SunPower states that their Maxeon 2 solar panels have the potential to generate approximately 45% more energy over a 25-year time frame when compared to standard panels.
Maxeon 3: high-efficiency modules suitable for small roof spaces
The Maxeon 3 model is up next for review. With a maximum efficiency of 22.7%, this solar panel is one of the most efficient panels on the market and is the crown jewel of the SunPower range. Available in residential sizes ranging from 400 to 430W, it uses the same 104-cell format and Gen-3 high-performance IBC cell technology as the Maxeon 2.
Maxeon 3 solar panels are in a class of their own due to their innovative design. They have no grid lines, thanks to the back-contact conductivity technology that maximizes their solar absorption capacity. Also, they feature triple-redundant connectors that eliminate concerns about their expansion or contraction during temperature changes. Additionally, these panels have the industry's lowest degradation rates, with just 0.25% per year over 24 years. Even after 24 years, they still offer highly efficient performance levels of up to 92%.
Maxeon 5: solar panels to produce up to 415 watts for residential use
SunPower has developed its advanced Maxeon 5 series using the cutting-edge IBC “Gen 5” cells. These panels are manufactured on a new production line in Malaysia, utilizing larger 6” IBC cells that enable an output ranging from 390W to 415W, making them among the most high-performance residential solar panels on the market.
Maxeon 6: company's top-of-the-line solar modules
SunPower unveiled its latest product line, the Maxeon 6 range, in 2022. In North America, it's known as the M-series and has been designed with a 66-cell format like the previous series, but it features the next generation Maxeon 6 cells, resulting in an unprecedented efficiency of 22.8%. This makes it the most effective solar panel available for homes.
The new 6 series panels are slightly larger than the Maxeon 5 series, and their power output has increased by 6%, peaking at 440W. The Maxeon 6 is also available in a bigger 72-cell size for the commercial sector, featuring increased ratings that go up to 475W.
The Performance Series: less efficient but more affordable solar option
The SunPower Performance Series solar panels use a unique shingled cell technology that has six parallel strings. This makes them both cost-effective and able to perform well, even when there is partial shading. These shingled PERC solar cells are less likely to crack than traditional full-sized cells, even though they use standard P-type silicon. The P Series modules come in three different types for residential, commercial, and utility-scale systems, and they have output ratings that range from 370 to 500W.
Despite using P-type silicon, SunPower grants a remarkable 25-year performance and manufacturer's warranty for their P Series panels.
AC Modules: solar panel + micro-inverter solution
Our review should also cover Sunpower AC Modules, which are created by pairing their Maxeon and Performance series panels with built-in Enphase micro-inverters. These micro-inverters are compact electronic devices located underneath each solar panel, specifically designed to enhance the performance of each panel and increase the system's durability against partial shading and soiling.
The cost of SunPower solar systems & financing options
Although SunPower doesn't provide online quotes, Maxeon panels typically range from $3.10 to $3.70 per watt. Based on this, a typical 6 kW solar system from the manufacturer may cost anywhere between $18,600 to $22,200, excluding any tax incentives. SEIA's latest report shows that the solar industry's average cost per watt is $3.27, indicating that SunPower models are competitively priced compared to other solar panels.
Still, the total gross cost may seem steep. But it's worth noting that most homeowners end up paying significantly less due to the many solar incentives and rebates accessible to assist with upfront expenditures, like the 30% federal tax credit.
SunPower offers different financing options for those who can't make a complete purchase, which can be reviewed to select the best fit. For instance, with a solar loan, you can acquire PV panels and pay a low monthly fee based on your credit. Another option SunPower offers is a solar lease where they keep ownership of the panels, and you pay a monthly fee to utilize the power they generate. This is comparable to paying your typical electricity bill, but the payments are considerably less. However, you won't be able to take advantage of any tax incentives.
All solar panel manufacturers currently provide replacements for any defects occurring during production or as a result of environmental factors. While most premium companies, such as Panasonic and REC, give a warranty period of 25 years, SunPower offers the most extensive product warranty in the industry, lasting 40 years.
Another thing that sets SunPower apart from the competition is its Complete Confidence Warranty program, which covers the entire SunPower solar system rather than just the panels. This warranty ensures that all repairs and replacements are conducted without extra charges, and proof of purchase or receipts are unnecessary. Moreover, SunPower guarantees that the primary DC output of their solar modules will not degrade by more than 12% in the first 40 years of use. The company also has a 25-year labor warranty available for customers who use the company’s affiliated installers.
Pros & cons rundown
With a review of SunPower solar panel options under our belt, we can now go over some of the benefits and drawbacks of selecting them.
Advantages of SunPower solar panels
- Highest power output. SunPower panels currently hold the record for the highest output ratings among residential solar panels available on the market, reaching up to 440 W. This means that you can install a smaller number of modules to meet your electricity needs.
- Best efficiency. SunPower is renowned for its exceptional efficiency results. As we stated in our review, it currently holds the record for the most efficient residential solar panel, with a rating of 22.7%.
- Low degradation rate. SunPower boasts an incredibly low degradation rate of only 0.25% per year, outshining its competitors, who experience 2.5% degradation in the first year and 0.7% annually after that. The Maxeon series guarantees 92% energy generation retention even after a quarter-century of use.
- Exceptional warranty. SunPower offers a superior warranty period, which lasts for 40 years and covers everything from shipping and installation to repairs and replacements, making it a leading brand among solar panel manufacturers.
Disadvantages of SunPower solar panels
- High cost. When you review your options for solar panels, you'll see that SunPower is the priciest at up to $3.70 per watt. Other brands like REC and Q Cells also offer high-quality solar panels at a more affordable price range. REC solar PV systems are usually priced between $2.32 and $3.10 per watt, while Q Cells' solar panels are typically priced between $2.32 and $3.16 per watt.
- Installation limitations. If you want to benefit from the 40-year SunPower warranty, you must have your solar panels installed by a company certified by SunPower. The availability of these services may differ depending on your area.
Conclusion: are SunPower solar panels worth the money?
In summary, SunPower solar modules are a top-of-the-line option for those who prioritize efficiency and quality and can afford the higher price point. The reviews highlight their remarkable features and warranty, making them an excellent choice for homeowners with limited roof space and a desire for a high-yielding solar system.
However, for those who are budget-conscious, SunPower may not be the most cost-effective option, and it may be worth exploring other high-efficiency panel brands that are more affordable. It's important to review your individual needs and budget before investing in solar panels because there are many great options available to choose from that can help you achieve your energy goals.