Warranty and tech support today: 10
Warranty and tech support long-term: 7
Value for money: 8
Total Rating: 8/10
Warranty and tech support today: 10
Warranty and tech support long-term: 7
Value for money: 5
Total Rating: 6.8/10
SunPower Solar Panels Review
At GI Energy we can install any solar panel for your home or business. This means we are able to write honest reviews expressing our genuine opinion, without having to be biased due to holding stock of SunPower solar panels, or any other solar panel! This article details the opinion of our Business Development Director, who has 12-years’ experience in the PV industry.
We review lots of solar products at GI Energy and more often than not we have to start by addressing the fact the product we are writing about is made by a large, rapid growing Chinese manufacturer with huge profits and plans to take over the world…well maybe not quite the taking of the world part, but you know what I mean! The vast majority of solar panels available for purchase in Australia today are made by big Chinese companies who manufacture a ridiculous number of solar panels every year. The primary objective with this type of business is to drive down cost and appeal to the mass market with a decent enough product…yawn!
So, when writing about SunPower solar panels it is quite nice to report they are not a competitor for your typical Chinese solar panels. SunPower target a different type of customer. They target someone looking for a really great quality product, who places less emphasis on cost than they do performance. And they do it very well!
Some evidence of this is that SunPower produce the world’s most efficient solar panel – the Maxeon 3! The name Maxeon screams high power and reminds me of a gladiator about to do battle with lions and tigers in the coliseum! They are a 400w panel and have an efficiency rating of 22.6%. Compare this to the closest competitor for efficiency and the LG Neon R comes in at 21.7%. This gives SunPower clear bragging rights over all its competitors in the efficiency department. Be mindful here though, that the efficiency of a solar panel is calculated by watts divided by meters squared. What this means is the efficiency of a solar panel really only refers to how much energy it can produce for the space it uses up. Many other solar panel manufacturers now have 400w panels – they are just bigger than SunPowers Maxeon 3. Check out our article on panel efficiency for more details. Essentially what this means is the efficiency rating is a great thing, and often relates to the overall quality of a solar panel, but certainly not always, so don’t base your decision on this alone. There are many other factors to consider such as:
- Who is the manufacturer and are they going to be able to help with long-term warranty support?
- How will the solar panel actually perform when its installed on my roof?
- How much will it cost me?
The most efficient solar panels 2020:
So, who is the manufacturer?
SunPower have a long trading history and first started out back in 1985 in California. This is a long history for solar panel manufacturers as the industry generally didn’t gain global momentum until around 2005. Manufacturing has moved around a bit over the years, but they do now have a facility in the States again. Although, if you have SunPower panels on your roof in Australia, it is likely they didn’t come from this American factory. SunPower purchased their current American facility from SolarWorld in 2018 primarily to avoid Trumps solar tariff, which increased the cost of importing solar panels from overseas facilities. Hence, the American manufactured solar panels, tend to stay in America! They have other facilities in Malaysia, the Philippines, Mexico and also China.
In 2019, SunPower reported production of 2.5GW of solar panels. This was a drastic increase on previous years, but still some way off the top of the tree for volume. Jinko took that spot and they shipped 14.2GW that same year. In fact, SunPower wouldn’t even get close to the top ten:
- Jinko Solar– 14.2GW (+25%)
- JA Solar – 10.3GW (+17%)
- Trina Solar – 9.7GW (+20%)
- Longi Solar– 9.0GW (+25%)
- Canadian Solar– 8.5GW (+20%)
- Hanwha Q Cells– 7.3GW (+33%)
- Risen Energy – 7.0GW (+46%)
- First Solar – 5.5GW (+104%)
- GCL – 4.8GW (+17%)
- Shunfeng Photovoltaic – 4.0GW (+21%)
But, as previously mentioned, SunPower are a high-performance solar panel manufacturer, not a big volume player like the above companies (who all happen to be much newer, Chinese owned manufacturers).
So far so good right?
Well, unfortunately this is where we need to address the big chink in SunPowers armour. According to reports, SunPower posted significant losses for a number of years running from 2016 all the way through to 2019. There have also been lot of (unconfirmed) reports that SunPower have been very close to bankruptcy a few times in the last 5 years. If this does happen, there is no way of telling what would happen to customers warranties, should they need them!
Unfortunately, this does represent a significant blow in the overall appeal for SunPower Solar panels.
Just for another twist in the tale, Total (massive oil and gas company) purchased 60% of SunPower in 2019, which does add some value and protection. However, is it still a bit unclear who is responsible for what in terms of warranties, should the solar division get in trouble again.
Ideally, we like to see solar panel manufacturers have a diverse range of products and multiple revenue streams, even if this is part of a parent company. While Total owning 60% of the overall company does add some credibility here, it is a bit too soon to see what this actually means for the business and its customers. Having a larger, more diverse company steering the ship means they are better equipped to ride the ups and downs this industry ultimately brings. Personally, I think the security this brings is extremely valuable.
How well will the solar panel perform?
This one is easy…it will perform very, very well!
Ok, let’s take a slightly closer look. SunPower nearly always have the most efficient solar panels in the world. And while this does not necessarily mean they are the best solar panel, there is no doubting the real-world performance of SunPower panels. Simply put… they are very good at producing electricity!
However, they do make two very different types of panels: The Maxeon, and the P Series. The Maxeon is what a lot of people would call the “real” SunPower panel. The P Series is the one made in China, and was introduced to increase volume significantly by giving consumers a cheaper alternative to the traditional SunPower panel. And it worked! SunPower increased volume by 80% after introducing this panel.
The downside here is that some solar retailers and installers are just pitching SunPower panels and not mentioning the fact they are actually installing the P Series. So, customers who are not well informed, just think they are getting SunPower…they don’t know they are getting the Chinese P Series. The P Series still performs well but from our own testing it is closer to the mainstream cheaper Chinese manufacturers, than it is to the better quality Maxeons. And, although cheaper than the Maxeon, they are still more expensive than most competitors. Which brings us nicely to our next point:
How much will they cost?
If the financial difficulty was the chink in SunPowers armour, then the cost is the sword that gets through that chink and right to the heart of most consumers. Yes, they are a great solar panel for efficiency, there is no doubt about that! And if you want the absolute best solar panels and you don’t care about cost, then despite the financial difficulties, these probably are the panel for you.
However, if you live in the real world like me, then unfortunately cost is always a factor! Especially when purchasing solar power and the return of investment is important. Please don’t get me wrong, you always have to look at the value of solar panel, not just the cost. And it is extremely rare that the cheapest solar panel offers the best value. So, with the increased efficiency, and the added cost taken into consideration, do SunPower represent value for money? The short answer is probably not. You will pay around $0.30 per watt extra for SunPower Maxeon panels, which is approximately $2000 more for a 6.6kW home solar system*. Even if you produced and used 10% more with a SunPower solar system, it would take roughly 9-years to get this extra outlay back – even if you used every single kW you produced, which is highly unlikely!
SunPower make a great panel! We love great panels! Would we buy one for our own roof? Probably not. The fact is they are very expensive and when you take the financial difficulties into account, they are even less appealing.
We don’t want to be too hard on SunPower as they are a leader in the industry in many ways. They are just not for everyone. So, if you are not overly concerned by the price vs. value equation then they may be for you!
*6.6kW will produce 27.72kW per day on average based on 4.2 peak production hours per day. And extra 10% would be 2.77kW. If you used all this electricity at $0.23 then this is worth a maximum of $0.63 per day, which is $229.95 per year.