Is SunPower King of Sun Power?

SunPower on Sun Power

SunPower on Sun Power

Who’s the leader of the solar pack?

“SunPower,” says SunPower founder, Richard Swanson, not surprisingly. But Swanson makes a good pitch for his product in a new video at MIT’s Technology Review.

He points to a couple of reasons for SunPower’s claim: use of a tracking system to follow the sun and superior design with all electrical leads on the back of the solar cell.

OK, positioning the array to follow the sun improves the output of any PV cell. It’s a method first used by sunflowers (and other plants).

Swanson claims that SunPower cells generate about 50% more electricity than conventional PVs.

There are two words in the previous sentence that should have set off alarms: about and conventional. Is 3% about 50%? Could be. And what, exactly, are conventional solar cells. Answer: anything I decide them to be. (Not for nothing did my wife go to law school.)


And, in fact, there’s plenty of disagreement. According to the folks over at Go Green Solar, “Sanyo solar panels outperform SunPower.”

There’s a caveat here, too, however. The data they’re using come from a solar installation company, not an independent lab.

Moral of the story? In solar, as in all things, caveat emptor.

I’ve read lots of good things about both SunPower and Sanyo, but, let’s be real here. There is no simple, unbiased ranking of PV cells that can tell you which manufacturer is the best for your location, electrical needs and piggy bank. Get bids from several installers, ask for references and then contact them.

And, watch the video, anyway. It may not be a documentary. But, on the other hand, it doesn’t mention John and Kate once.

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