In this podcast, Brian Sadler, Vice President of Solaris and Spencer Killette, Director of Sales for Maxeon, talk about Maxeon solar panels. Spencer outlines the benefits of these industry-leading solar panels, and then Brian talks about customers’ real-life experiences and satisfaction with Maxeon solar panels.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Brian Sadler, Vice President at Solaris Renewables, a solar company designing, installing and servicing solar systems in Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire and Maine. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Sadler: Hey, John. Thanks for having us in today.
John: Sure. And our special guest today is Spencer Killette, North American Director of Sales for Maxeon Solar Technologies. Welcome, Spencer.
Spencer Killette: Hey, guys. Thanks for having me.
Maxeon and SunPower Corporation
John: Absolutely. So, Spencer, we wanted to talk today a little bit about Maxeon solar panels and introduce them to our listeners. I know that there’s a relationship between Maxeon Solar Technologies and SunPower Corporation. I believe that Maxeon actually manufactured the SunPower solar panels at one point. Tell us a little bit more about what that relationship is between the two companies.
Spencer: Yeah, good question. It comes up a lot as you might imagine. So, Maxeon and SunPower actually used to be the same company. For most of our history we were one company. So, the company was founded as SunPower in the Bay Area in 1987, I believe, and up until a couple years ago, operated as a single international entity that encompassed manufacturing and downstream, so sales, financing, all that kind of stuff.
So, a couple years ago, Maxeon and SunPower split into two separate companies, Maxeon being sort of the international arm and taking all of the manufacturing and R&D with it and SunPower here in the US being really focused on growing their downstream business, so B2B as well as B2C.
Since that split, we have supplied SunPower with their M-Series modules and we continue to do that today and recently signed a multi-year deal with them, however, we’ve also reentered the market here as Maxeon to access a different set of customers.
We are selling a DC panel today, we’ll talk a little bit about what that means here in just a bit, and we’re selling it through distribution. It’s a very different play from the one that SunPower is running. It’s a bit simpler, a little bit more flexible and comes with a significantly lower level of support and requirements from a marketing standpoint, branding standpoint. So, it’s for a different type of customer and we’ve been doing that on our own as Maxeon here in the US since the beginning of the year this year.
Advantages of Maxeon Solar Panels
John: Okay. So, as we get into that a little bit more, what are some of the main advantages of Maxeon solar panels over other brands in the market?
Spencer: Yeah, good question. So, there are many, but I think to simply break it down as best I can here, it essentially comes down to aesthetics, performance and what I would call peace of mind. We make a proprietary technology called IBC, that stands for Interdigitated Back Contact, and that just describes the architecture of our cells. No one else is making an IBC cell.
Interdigitated Back Contact — Proprietary Cell Technology
And what that does, that proprietary cell technology, is it gives us advantages in each one of the areas that I just mentioned. So, aesthetics, there are no lines on the front of the modules. If you’ve ever looked at a solar module or a picture of one, you’ve almost certainly seen some silvery, metallic looking lines on the front of the module. Ours do not have those and that gives us a couple of advantages.
One, it mitigates any sort of hard shading that would be put on the front of the cells by way of the fundamental cell structure, meaning, without having anything on the front of the cells except for the actual silicon material, we can capture more sunlight and turn that sunlight into more energy that can be used and it also makes them look better.
High Efficiency, Aesthetically Pleasing
Because they are the highest efficiency modules available on the market and that means they produce the most energy in the smallest space, we can also build aesthetically pleasing arrays by either installing fewer panels and therefore maybe staying off a particular roof plane or side of the house that the customers don’t want a module to be on, and we can provide the same amount of energy, or more, with a smaller number of panels than most of our competitors because we are such a highly efficient product.
Highest Temperature Coefficient in the Industry
And a little bit more about performance, we also do very well in heat. We have one of the highest temperature coefficients in the industry, so that means we produce more energy on hot days than most of our competitors. We do very well on cloudy days and in shade.
The module has a very high, what we call spectral response. So, it produces energy early in the morning, late in the day and on cloudy days, at a higher level than competitive products. It’s more durable and that comes down to that fundamental IBC cell structure and the connection between the cells.
Near Zero Failure Rate
So, briefly, other modules tend to fail due to, predominantly, hotspots and internal cell cracking and circuitry cracking. And because we have the conductive elements on the back of the cell and have built those into an actual structural plate and because we have a solid connection between the cells, where all of our competitors have just some very thin lines going between the cells that don’t offer any kind of structural durability advantage, our modules, a) perform better, longer and b) fail at a much, much lower rate than any modules on the market.
Our published failure rate is 0.005%, which is 50 parts per million and that’s actually a little bit of a hedge. The real number is 42 parts per million and that’s over roughly 50 million modules that we’ve produced during the lifespan of the company.
And then the last thing I mentioned was peace of mind. So, because we’ve been doing this for a long time and because we build fundamentally hardier technology, we’ve been able to continually push the boundaries in terms of what a solar manufacturer can offer in terms of warranty to its customers.
We are currently offering the only 40-year warranty in the business. It is a comprehensive warranty, it’s very simply written. If you look at it, it’s not a warranty that you would need an attorney to understand and that’s because we haven’t written in many indemnities. We don’t really want to give ourselves a way out because we have that much confidence in the product. So, like I said, it’s comprehensive, meaning it includes labor, it is transferable to new homeowners and it’s available to all customers.
Is Maxeon More Efficient Than Other Solar Panels?
John: Okay. Our average consumer might think about technology of solar panels in terms of efficiency. Would it be fair to say that the Maxeon solar panels are more efficient than most other solar panels?
Spencer: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s at the core of what Maxeon and when it was SunPower really has focused on historically. So, we make the most efficient modules on the market. Our black modules are available at a 22.2% efficiency, our white back sheet modules at 22.7%.
And what that means to the homeowner is that they get more energy in the same space as competitive module technologies now and for the life of the system. Or they can install fewer panels and get the same amount of energy as with competitive technologies.
How Does Maxeon Stand Up to Real-World Conditions?
John: And can you talk a little bit about Maxeon panel performance in different environments or real-world conditions, whether that’s maybe some cloudy days or some shade that they might have on their roof or like you said, there might be different configurations that people are able to put on their roof? Those real-world conditions really make a difference sometimes. How does Maxeon stand up when it comes to that sort of thing?
Spencer: Yes, great question. Because we’ve been doing this for so long and have fundamentally built versions of the same technology for our entire existence, we have a lot of real-world data to sort of pull the answer to your question from that a lot of our competitors do not have.
For example, there is a study that was done…it was completed in 2018 I believe…it’s called the Jordan Study. It was done in conjunction with NREL, which is the National Renewable Energy Lab out of Boulder, Colorado. It’s a division of the Department of Energy.
Lowest Degradation Rate in the Industry
And that study showed that our real-world degradation, which is how much the panels produce less each year they’re in operation, was at about 0.019%, which is by far the lowest in the industry. And this was measured over a number of sites, a couple hundred thousand panels, lots of different locations across the US, so it’s true out of the lab, out of the spec sheet, real-world performance.
More Energy, With Less Light Than Competitors
In terms of how we do specifically in shade or heat or on cloudy days, so I mentioned our broad spectral response earlier. Again, that means the panels are able to produce energy from less sunlight than our competitors, so again, on cloudy days or earlier in the morning, later at night. And for the homeowner, that just means that you get more of what you pay for essentially.
We like to talk in watts and cost per watt a lot in this industry and I think that that does the customer a bit of a disservice at times because what the customer is really buying is… the investment is in kilowatt-hours. That’s what they actually use in their home. And so, our broader spectral response, which comes from that proprietary IBC cell technology, allows the panels to produce energy earlier in the morning, later in the evening and on cloudy days, which again just gives the homeowner more of what they pay for.
Top of the Industry for Performance in Humidity
Now in terms of performance in heat or humidity, we are also industry best in the humidity category. So, we’ve got quite a bit of third party verified data to show that the modules are extremely durable when it comes to temperature cycling and humidity testing. We were rated best-in-class for heat and humidity for the past, I believe, two years by PVEL, which is an industry recognized third party that does testing on modules and inverters.
And then for heat, we have one of the highest temperature coefficiencies in the industry. What that means is…so for people who don’t know, sort of counterintuitively, solar panels produce fewer kilowatt-hours in high heat. They actually perform a little bit better in cooler temperatures, and so the temperature coefficient is just the measure of how well a panel performs as it gets hotter and hotter.
Every panel on the market will produce a little bit less as the temperature rises, but ours because of, again, that proprietary IBC cell technology and the thick and solid connections between the cells, our panels mitigate that as well as anything else on the market.
How Long Do Maxeon Solar Panels Last?
John: You touched on this a little bit, but how long do Maxeon solar panels last and what’s their warranty period?
Spencer: Good question. So, the warranty period is 40 years, and I did touch on this a little bit earlier but I’ll expand on it. We’ve always been the market leader in terms of warranty, and I always like to mention that because I think that there are two ways to think about changes in a warranty from a manufacturer.
It’s either a business decision, meaning, “Well, we feel like we need to up our warranty to capture more customers because this appears to be something that they want.” And that’s usually competitor driven. Someone comes out with a warranty that’s better than the rest of the field and the rest of the field, after a little while says, “Yeah, I think we need to up our game here to level up again with this other manufacturer.”
Only Manufacturer With a 40-Year Warranty
The other way to think about it is a warranty can be changed or improved based on real-world historical performance and data and that’s how our warranty has always been made better over time. So, we were the first manufacturer to come out with a 25-year warranty, bumper-to-bumper. We were the first manufacturer to add labor into the equation, to actually pay installers to come out to the house and fix the panel if the panel fails.
So, we’re now the only manufacturer with a 40-year warranty. I would be very surprised if any of our competitors actually follow us to 40. We also provide the lowest degradation, so best performance warranty in the business. And that actually has our panels performing at 88.3% — they’re warrantied to perform at 88.3% of their day one performance in year 40 of operation.
Best Performance Warranty in the Business
So, we’re not yet ready to publish a higher useful life, we want to get comfortable with the data to make sure that we can support a claim that would be above 40. But you can bet that if we warranty a product to perform above 88% of its day one performance in year 40 that it ain’t going to quit the first day of year 41.
John: Right. If you’ve got a washing machine that is warrantied for a year, it should last for a few years at least.
Brian: Useful life, a lot of times in the industry, is calculated by when is it going to operate at 70% of its original capacity, which if you do the math and you’re guaranteeing 88.3% in year 40, that’s more than that 70% figure, so Maxeon is a beefy product to say the least.
Environmental Impact of Maxeon Solar Panels
John: Can you talk a little bit about the environmental impact of Maxeon solar panels and maybe how that stacks up against other manufacturers?
Spencer: Yeah, absolutely. We’re very focused on ESG and we like to kind of thump our chests where that’s concerned because it is a focus for us. And for so many of our manufacturing competitors, it doesn’t appear to be. So, a little bit of detail there.
The panels that actually are delivered to and installed here in the US are made in a factory in Ensenada, Mexico and we were the first net-zero factory certified of any kind in Mexico in that facility. It takes about two years for the typical panel to produce the energy that it consumed in its production. So, every panel has to be produced in a factory, energy is necessary to run that factory. It takes about two years for the average panel to offset the energy that was needed to make it.
Because of our energy reduction efforts in production and because of our high efficiency, it takes Maxeon panels a little bit less than half of that time, so about one year to offset the energy that was necessary to produce it, so we’re quite proud of that.
We also are the only manufacturer to carry a Declare label. So, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Declare, but it’s a consumer-facing company that essentially offers transparency on products in terms of where were they manufactured, how were they manufactured and what was used in the manufacturing process and then where did those materials come from? And we voluntarily applied for and were given the Declare label because we have an extremely clean and reliable supply chain, we have excellent working conditions in the factory and we wanted to be able to actually talk about that and get some credit for it from our consumer base.
Customer Experiences With Maxeon Solar Panels
John: Yeah, that’s great. Brian, on your end at Solaris Renewables, can you give us some feedback and maybe some stories from customers who have used Maxeon solar panels and what they think of it and what you’ve seen in the real-world, as it were, where you’re actually installing them on people’s houses?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think Spencer really went into great detail about some of the attributes of these panels.
Spencer: Probably too much.
Customers Choose Maxeon for Its Look and Love Its Performance
Brian: No, it’s awesome. It really outlines it in an easy-to-understand way as well because we have these conversations with customers every day and you’re boiling down temperature coefficients like, “Hey, it’s going to produce better in all conditions.” But I think at the end, no pun intended, but at a glance, customers are looking for their system to perform well, but really they want it to look great and that’s really where Maxeon shines at the initial glance.
They don’t know, they’re making a decision for the next 40 plus years, but the first thing they know is what’s it going to look like on their roof and then that’s what they see. And then they start to understand over time as they own the system how that system is performing with them.
Virtually No Service Calls for Maxeon Panels
So, I think what we find is that our top referral base are our customers with Maxeon panels and that cell technology on the roof. We have virtually no service calls. Those systems obviously have electronics attached to them and that’s generally where we see more of the service from. We’ve never had to replace any panels with Maxeon cells on them.
I mean it speaks to what Spencer was talking about with that failure rate of 50 parts per million or better. So, the warranty as well, we really haven’t had to deal with it to be honest, but what’s great is that customers are happy. And so, I can speak for myself, I have the panels with that cell technology on my roof. I notice, and a lot of our customers now understand, that the panels are making power before I can see the sun, albeit small amounts and little bits, but all those little bits add up. So, I can see it right now, 5:30 in the morning, my panels are active and at 9:00 at night, my panels are active.
Early Morning, Late Evening Energy Production
Now it’s not setting the world on fire at that given time, but all those little bits of kilowatt-hours add up throughout the day, week, month and year and lifetime of the system and give me savings on my energy bills, also provide performance-based incentives that we get as well, so all these kilowatt-hours are super important. Also in my house, we don’t have shading situations, but we do have snow.
We’re here in New England, there’s snow and there’s partially covered panels and things like that and my panels are still able to produce, my system is still producing even when there’s some snow on my roof. But we have a lot of customers that do have more challenging sites with shading and we’re finding that, like I said, when I can’t see the sun, it’s producing, and then similarly, if there is some shading on the panels themselves, they’re still producing power as well.
Stunning Aesthetics and Clean Lines
I will say, aesthetically, that’s one thing that is 100% across the board, customers when it’s actually installed, they’re like, “I’m not sure if I believed you when I saw the pictures. I figured you’re showing me pictures, of course they’ll look great. But wow, you’re right, it really does look good. These Maxeon panels are really sharp.” Not seeing the lines and the wiring infrastructure, it goes a long way.
I mean these all black Maxeon panels look really…almost like our phone or LED screen where you see just kind of a black surface, so they look really cohesive. And then again, with our installation techniques where we’re trying to really use great wire management and equipment placement to match that aesthetic that Maxeon brings to the table and customers super appreciate it.
Robust Warranty and Performance Guarantee
And then as time goes on, most of customers are reporting to us, “Hey, my system paid for itself faster than you told me,” because we actually guarantee the power as well.
So, Maxeon has a robust warranty, guarantees the performance, but we’re essentially standing behind that as well as an installer, that we designed and installed this properly and that we want to build that confidence upfront, the customers should choose Solaris to go with because we know what we’re doing, but we’re going to be conservative because we’re actually putting real dollars behind it as well.
So, what has happened is that customers say, “Hey, you told me it was going to be seven years or,” whatever that number is, “and it’s actually been shorter than that.” So, I think across the board, we love customers that we hear from for referrals and reviews and positive feedback and that’s where our Maxeon customers fall. So, I think that goes a long way to speaking to the product in real-world environment.
Spencer: Under promise, over deliver is a great way to generate referrals for sure.
Brian: Right. Absolutely.
Committed to Over-Performance
Spencer: Yeah, and I should mention that, to Brian’s point about slightly over delivering, every panel comes with what’s called a power tolerance rating. And so solar manufacturing, cell manufacturing is a bit finicky.
Not to go into too much detail, but it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact wattage from any set of cells that you produce. You can get really close, but you can never get exactly there and that’s why power tolerance ratings exist. They basically say, “Hey look, this panel is,” let’s say in our case, 410, 415, “this 410 rated panel is plus/minus 2 or 3%.” And that means it might be 2 or 3% less than 410, it might be 2 or 3% more. So, that’s sort of how the competitive landscape looks.
For Maxeon, we have a positive power tolerance. So, when we produce a 410 or a 415, we give you a plus 5% power tolerance which means, “Hey, the lowest possible number you’re going to get is the one that’s on the nameplate, the one that’s on the spec sheet.” So, if you ordered 415s, the lowest possible rating for this module is 415, could be up to 5% more than that. So, the over performance is a bit baked into the modules themselves.
The Future of Maxeon? Record-Breaking Efficiency and More US-Based Manufacturing
John: Yeah, that’s great. Spencer, finally we just wanted to ask you, what does the future look like for Maxeon Solar? Where do you see things going from here?
Spencer: Good question. So, we have, since our inception, been focused on high efficiency. We’ve always been the efficiency leader in solar and we continue to push the boundaries there. So, we have the most efficient modules in the market today, but we are always developing our next generation technology. And just about a month ago, we actually had NREL, so the National Renewable Energy Lab, certify a panel, one of our next generation modules, at 24.7% efficiency which is a world record.
Brian: Wow. That’s just huge.
Spencer: Yeah, very exciting. If you go down this rabbit hole when you’re researching solar, you will see a lot of world record claims in terms of efficiency. Most of them, particularly if it’s next generation technology, they’re all going to be from labs, but many of them are cell efficiencies. And it’s important to understand that cell efficiency and panel efficiency are a different thing and no one has come very close to the 24.7% efficiency that we just posted within NREL and that’s what we expect to deliver with our next generation modules here in a couple years.
The other thing I should mention about the future is that we’ve announced that we’re going to be building a US factory. There are some really nice incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act for domestic manufacturing that we want to take advantage of and we want to allow our customers to take advantage of. So, we are still finalizing the details of where the factory will be, capacity, all that kind of stuff, but we are moving into domestic manufacturing as well.
And the last thing that I’d mention is in the international markets where Maxeon has been in market as its own brand outside of SunPower for much longer, we have a suite of products that we offer to dealers that are built around the module. And that’s something that we’re exploring and we’ll eventually launch here in the US. That could look like storage, could look like EV charging, so that’ll be exciting when we can expand the product offering.
Contact Solaris About Maxeon Solar Panels Today
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information. Again, Spencer, thank you very much for speaking with us about Maxeon Solar Technologies.
Spencer: Thanks for having me, guys. Was a pleasure.
John: And thanks again, Brian from Solaris Renewables for speaking with us today. Thanks, Brian.
Brian: Yeah, great. Thanks, Spencer. Thanks, John. Good to get together with you guys.
John: And for more information about Solaris or about Maxeon solar panels, you can visit the Solaris Renewables website at solarisrenewables.com or call 781-270-6555.