Not so long ago, SunPower’s high efficiency PV modules were an industry novelty and considered a specialty premium item. With greater than 20% efficiency they allowed relatively large capacity in a compact footprint. However as the price of PV modules has collapsed the Balance of Systems components are now significant cost drivers on a percentage basis. It is a thing of the past that racking, wire, labor are swamped out by the module cost. In less than 10 years PV module costs have dropped by a factor of 10.
10 years ago all efforts were to bring Module $/Watt down. But they have reached lows that premium modules from SunPower are in demand because they can lower the cost of PV systems even with the cost premium for the modules. However with the impending elimination of the federal tax credits, there is a push to make PV economical without subsidies. Solar City has purchased Silevo with the intent of taking their very high efficiency module technology and scaling production to the point that they are able to produce 20%+ efficiency modules at very low cost. This will be revolutionary in the industry and promises to meet that goal. It is interesting to look at the build-out of capacity in the high efficiency space.
Silevo (now owned by Solar City) is building a 1GW production facility in Buffalo NY. They currently show 18.4% efficiency on their spec sheets and the company has been averaging 1% annual efficiency improvements over the last few years.
And SunPower has not been standing still. Their 21.5% efficiency solar modules set the standard for high efficiency. And they are planning to triple capacity in the next 5 years.