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SolarCity Says It Has Produced the World's Highest Efficiency Solar Panel 184

Lucas123 writes: SolarCity, one of the country's leading solar panel makers and installers, today said it has been able to create a product that has a 22.04% efficiency rating, topping its closest competitor SunPower, by about one percent. While the percentages may appear small, SolarCity said the new panels, which will go into pilot production later this month, will produce 30% to 40% more energy with the same footprint as its current panels, and they will cost no more to make.
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SolarCity Says It Has Produced the World's Highest Efficiency Solar Panel

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @05:38PM (#50647871)
    inquiring minds.....
    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      The panels aren't the real expense. It's the controllers and batteries and such. If all you had to buy was the panels I'd already have them all over.

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        In my 15,000 watt installation well over 50% of the cost was the solar panels.

        • Was it only the panels or the inverters, rails, etc.? I got a 5 kW system (4.3 AC) with microinverters and the panels cost about 1,100 per kW and another 5,000 for the inverters, rails, conduit etc. Labor etc. was another 1,000/kW (rebate makes it much cheaper).

      • You don't need batteries when you are connected to the grid.

        If you want to have batteries to live at night from your own solar installation, you need 4 times as much solar power.

        So the price factor: is the solar panel, not the battery.

  • Not one percent (Score:5, Informative)

    by ma++i+ude ( 580592 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @05:43PM (#50647909) Homepage
    22.04% is not one percent better than SunPower's 21.5%, it's 2.5% better. Alternatively, it's 0.54 percentage points better. It's not the same thing.
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      And it sure as heck isn't "30% to 40%" more
    • 100% this.

    • It said 30% better than their current panels, not SunPower's panels. Their current panels are around 17% efficient.

    • Nor are they the most efficient panels [] by a long shot. Panels for space use can go up into the 30-40% range (multi-junction). Perhaps these are the most efficient thin film crystal panels, or scalable-manufacturing single crystal? The article doesn't say.
  • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @05:46PM (#50647929)

    In my area, the cost of the panels is no longer the primary issue.

    I can purchase a 10kw system online including all the panels, cables, inverter, etc. for about $17K. []

    That system has 32 panels, the "smart" inverter, racking, disconnect, etc.

    The trick is installing it. The lowest total installed price for that system that I've been able to find is $35K. That strikes me as nuts.

    I've contacted multiple companies, I've had 2 of them quote me systems after looking at my roof.

    Making the panels a bit more efficient won't cut the price by enough to matter until the install cost comes down. Maybe I should start a solar panel install company. :)

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      If you cant DIY it, then give up now as install costs will never go down and will only go up. You are paying for labor and insurance for the installers and those rates go up every year and never ever go down.

      • If you cant DIY it, then give up now as install costs will never go down and will only go up. You are paying for labor and insurance for the installers and those rates go up every year and never ever go down.

        Do you honestly think $18K to install a 32 panel solar system is reasonable?

        That strikes me as nuts. I'm sure there are some bits and parts needed beyond the $17K of hardware, but lord I didn't pay that much for my whole roof, both labor and materials.

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        That installation price is extortionate, UK and Germany panel installations are a fraction of the cost.

        Lack of competition, more demand than supply and onerous red tape costs are likely the problem.

    • Hint you have to use a certified (by the solar panel manufacture aka the last guys that touched it) to get the fed tax credits.

      Like most federal tax credits incentives etc it's pork for a corp interest. All you should need is the signoff from the electrical inspector maybe have them do a quick power output test and sign some paperwork. Instead the value of that work gets marked up the same as the tax breaks.

    • by sribe ( 304414 )

      Making the panels a bit more efficient won't cut the price by enough to matter until the install cost comes down.

      More efficient means fewer panels, means lower install cost. This small an increment might not even eliminate 1 panel from your system, but the accumulation of these increments means you need way fewer panels than you did 10 years ago.

      • While that is true, it won't lower it by much...

        Cutting the panel count from 32 to 28 doesn't reduce the cost by more than perhaps a few hundred dollars.

        The real cost is in setting the whole thing up, bringing the crew out, wiring it to the house and grid, and setting up the roof in the first place.

        Adding or removing 5 panels is trivial once all that is done.

        • I got an email flyer/advert today from the company that I bought my solar panels and inverter from selling panels at $0.19 per watt. Where I live, 1w of solar will generate (after system losses) $0.24 of electricity per year. Even if its a crappy panel, it will pay for itself in a few months.
          • That is crazy cheap... something doesn't seem right with that, but who knows...

            Of course, one has to mount them and hook them up. :)

        • by sribe ( 304414 )

          While that is true, it won't lower it by much...

          Cutting the panel count from 32 to 28 doesn't reduce the cost by more than perhaps a few hundred dollars.

          One thing I forgot to point out, this article compares the output of these Solar City panels to SunPower, the current most efficient. That is a small margin. But compared to what Solar City currently uses, they're 30-40% more efficient. Now _that_ reduces panel count enough to lower installation cost.

          It is crucial that Solar City says they'll cost the same to produce. Although a SunPower installation involves significantly fewer panels, the panels cost so much that the savings is not all that great. But cut

          • Now _that_ reduces panel count enough to lower installation cost.

            Perhaps, but not by that much...

            How much labor is there in installing one panel next to another, once you're already there and setup for it?

            A hundred dollars?

            Even if you cut the panel count from 32 to 16, you're only cutting $1,600 off the install cost (and even that might be high).

            • by sribe ( 304414 )

              Perhaps, but not by that much...

              How much labor is there in installing one panel next to another, once you're already there and setup for it?

              A hundred dollars?

              Even if you cut the panel count from 32 to 16, you're only cutting $1,600 off the install cost (and even that might be high).

              No, you have to install the frame to hold the panel, secure it to the roof, waterproof the mounts, do some minimal wiring. There is significant per-panel labor cost.

              • So if you have 2 guys doing each panel, and it takes 2.5 hours to do each panel (it doesn't, but lets say it does), and you pay them $20/hr, you're at $100 a panel.

                Fair enough, double that to $200/hr since the company has to make money.

                $3,200 for 16 panels.

                Out of $18k install costs, that still isn't much, and these new panels don't cut the panel count in half. :(

                I'm honestly not trying to be hard about this, I just don't think the cost of adding one more panel to an install makes THAT much difference.


                • by sribe ( 304414 )

                  Regardless, I'm still hoping to hear someone suggest a company in the Dallas area that doesn't charge stupid rates.

                  Different technologies, different areas. In New England contractors are absolutely rapacious with geothermal installs.

                  Anyway, if you're the least bit handy, google for DIY solar installs. I'm actually considering it myself.

    • That's crazy. I installed my own 2.5kw system myself in a few hours. Seriously. I laid it out (bread boarded) on my friends driveway and had all the pieces except the grounding rod hooked up and running in maybe 15 minutes. I guess if people are subsidizing it and the money is there, why not charge that much.
      • Well, a few minor things...

        In my case, I have a two story home that is far enough off the ground that I don't want to be climbing up there myself. I could, but I'd rather not fall. :)

        Installing 32 panels up there is really a multiple person job.

        I also don't have experience with wiring this type of electricity and while I could figure it out, I don't care to risk my family's safety with something that I'm clearly an amateur at.

        So yes, technically I could do it, but this is the sort of thing I'm happy to pay

        • I didn't have experience either. One thing you can do is do the work yourself (like running the wires), then getting an electrician to come in and do the actual connecting, then hire an inspector for $400. My electrician is about $50/hr, but the majority of that time is unskilled grunt work.
          I'm not against hiring people, but it really takes so little skill and time and $35k is more than I make in a year and honestly more than the cost of all the rest of the electricity I'll use in my life.
          • That is why I think $18K to install it is beyond insane...

            I just haven't found a reasonable local company...

            As for the power itself, $35K works out to about 12 years of my power bills, but even that is too much since a 10kw system will only reduce maybe 40% of my bill.

            It is too expensive. At $25K before tax credits, it starts to make sense.

            If good panels can be had for less than $17K for the whole kit, of course the cost would come down further.

            Maybe other areas have decent competition and suppliers, if th

  • Cost? Life? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @05:48PM (#50647943) Journal
    Manufacturing cost is same, they claim.

    The new panels produce 30% to 40% more power over the current models, but they cost the same to manufacture -- about .55 cents per watt, according to Bass. The panels, which are 1.61 meters or 1.81 meters in size, depending on the model, will have a capacity of 355 watts each.

    . Curiously they don't claim it would cost the same to the users. May be a little profit taking, nothing wrong with that, they need some motivation and some returns to attract investments. Anyway they have competition, they are not the sole manufacturer of some life saving drug or something. Market will rein in the profits at the optimal level. And may be transportation and installation might be a little more expensive? Don't know, but encouraged the cost of manufacturing is same.

    No mention of life of the panels.

    • You don't seem to notice that the price being quoted is per watt. Not per square foot or any other measure of area. So the new higher efficiency panels will cost more than the older panels. But the new panels will generate more power. As for the customer cost, like other posters have observed, the lions share is for the control electronics and inverters.

      • Thanks, so it does cost more. Just that the cost increase is not out of proportion to the increased efficiency. So it is not as big a deal. May be the cost will come down eventually?
    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      .55 cents per watt

      That's amazing! So a 355 watt panel will cost 355*0.55=195 cents!

  • As other commentators have pointed out, the install prices these days, compared to the prices of the panels, are insane. The installations have gotten simpler than ever - with microinverters, you literally can go up there and install 1 panel per weekend as the system functions just fine with N number of panel/inverter modules installed. (as long as N is smaller than the number of panels that can fit on your roof)

    Anyways, SunPower won't sell you the panels directly. I have seen them available online but on

    • If you're saying a DIY install with microinverters is relatively easy (for the technically inclined), I'd love to see a link or two.
      • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @08:48PM (#50648931)

        Like this? []

        Point is, you need a panel. And you need a microinverter. And you need a wire to the roof. And you need a box, called a combiner box, the wire goes into. There is usually a cutoff switch on that box. Then, after that, the wire from the combiner box is usually backfed into your main breaker panel, with the power going backwards through an appropriate breaker rated for the wire's ampacity. Really, the tricky part is the power company has to come and approve the design and install their 2 way meter. Everything else, any idiot can do.

      • Isn't slashdot supposedly a website for technical people?
  • Everyone's kind of miserable today up here in Oregon. Nice to read some good news.
  • by erp_consultant ( 2614861 ) on Friday October 02, 2015 @06:16PM (#50648133)

    Solar City offers you two options - buy the panels outright or lease them. Most people go for the lease option because of the lower upfront cost. I looked at this about a year ago but decided not to get it once I found out that you can't upgrade the panels when newer/cheaper/better ones come along. Whatever you signed up for you are stuck with. No thanks.

    • by evanbd ( 210358 )
      What were you hoping for? If you buy out right, you can buy new stuff later. Besides, it's not like your cell phone where they go out of style; a 1kW system will still be a 1kW system. Improvements just mean the prices go down, not that your neighbors will laugh at your outdated panels.
      • by dj245 ( 732906 )
        The system might be limited by roof space or other considerations. I can very easily imagine many types of houses where it would be a problem.
      • To me it just seems like a 25 year car lease. Nobody leases a car for 25 years. Why? Because the technology improves sufficiently that you can get more car for the same money. New features, better gas mileage, more power, etc.

        Sure you could buy the panels outright - for about $35,000 or so depending on the size of your house. And in 5 years when much better technology comes along what are you going to do with the old panels? You could sell them for pennies on the dollar but someone has to climb up on the ro

        • by evanbd ( 210358 )
          Why wouldn't you just keeping using the old panels? They won't get any less useful. They'll still put out very nearly the same power level 25 years from now. No one leases a car for that long because you don't expect your car to still be in good working order that far in the future, and you'll want the newer improved safety features, better engine, better gas mileage, etc. But with the panels... it's just watts. So your neighbor's newer installation has 8 panels instead of 10 for the same power level or som
          • Ok fair enough. The panels would still work, although less efficiently than newer ones. For me the real deal killer was that it would only save me $30 a month. That's peanuts and certainly not enough to go to the time and expense of having it installed. I want something that will save me $100 a month minimum. Then it starts to make more sense.

            • by evanbd ( 210358 )
              Yeah, that I can definitely see. Though I suspect that number is improving... hopefully you won't have to wait too long. I think in my case it will wait until I've done some other house projects and such...
    • There are actually 4 options... buy outright, buy financing through them, lease with an option to buy, buy power (lease, no option to buy, lower cost).

      And yeah, they told me about the no panel upgrade and that bothered me as well. I have some shade in the area, and it moves around, and in order to get off the grid entirely, a 13% increase in panel efficiency for a given area would fix it. But they will not upgrade your existing panels when more efficient panels become available.

      So that sticks me with a 20

      • I stand corrected on the options - but it really does boil down to buy or lease. It sounds like your experience was similar to mine. I went into it with high hopes but the terms and the numbers just didn't do it for me. 13% increase is pretty big actually. But I suspect that in a couple of years it will be there. Then I'll give it another look.

    • Whatever you signed up for you are stuck with. No thanks.

      So did you base your decision purely the ability for you to upgrade or did the offer fail a return on investment analysis?
      If you were to buy one today and upgrade in 2 years would the investment be based on the fact that you hope it pays for itself when it's more efficient?
      Did you do a return on investment calculation based on the assumption of re-investing after only a couple of years?

      Really on what basis did you reject this? It sounds like you're kicking the can down the road happily buying electricity wh

      • I did do an ROI. My net savings would have been $30/month vs what I am paying now for electricity from the grid. 30 bucks. And that is assuming you agree with their projections on energy cost going forward, which they factor into the calculation. Now I am sure that the cost of electricity is going to go up but nobody knows by how much. Factoring in the tax rebates the payoff would have been about 8 years. I'm not that I'll be in this house for that long.

        • So what you're saying is the fact that they don't upgrade you on the lease has nothing to do with you not purchasing them and it would have railed ROI if you had bought them outright too.

          I thought so.

          • What I'm saying is that the ROI didn't work out whether I purchased them or I leased them. The fact that I'm locked into a 25 year lease with no opportunity to upgrade just reinforces that it's a bad deal.

            Look, if you want to get solar panels because it makes you feel like you're saving the world then have at it. Not every decision is or should be based on money. All I'm saying is that I looked at it and I didn't like the terms. I'm not going to go to the trouble and expense of putting panels on my roof jus

  • Was the picture of the factory, here is the massive building, with a massive rooftop, that appears not to have any solar panels on it.
    • by Amouth ( 879122 )

      To be fair the caption says, "SolarCity's 1 GW solar panel manufacturing facility in Buffalo, N.Y. is expected to open in early 2017", and the picture shows active construction, and it is only 2015. So they have year to finish the building and add Solar to it.

  • We've had FAR more efficient panels around. []

    Solar City isn't even fucking CLOSE to most efficient.

    • Single Junction vs Multi-Junction.

      Single junction cells are currently the winner for actual installs, multi-junction cells are the ones that are so expensive that you want to focus many time's the sun's emissions on it.

      Basically, you're comparing a family car against a top fuel car.

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