The solar industry was intrigued when National Semiconductor departed from its chip-selling origins and entered the solar industry with its SolarMagic DC-boost panel optimizer. Selling a sub-system and competing against vendors like SolarEdge and Tigo was a new strategic direction encouraged by then-CEO Brian Halla.
Since then, National has gone from system player back to chip supplier, replaced its CEO, announced that it will be acquired by Texas Instruments, and is in the process of selling off its solar monitoring business.
Greentech Media just learned that National has sold its energy monitoring business (the former Energy Recommerce) to Power-One (NASDAQ: PWER), the second largest inverter manufacturer. This was confirmed by National's press contact in a phone conversation on Friday.
In a FQ3 2009 earnings call, then-CEO Brian Halla identified the Total Available Market for their product as 2.5 million units.
In 2009 National acquired Energy Recommerce, a solar monitoring startup, as well as ACT Solar, a string level Maximum Power Point Tracking startup.
Halla retired amicably and was replaced by CFO and COO Don Macleod. Despite denials from the company's press contacts last year, National realized its strategic misstep and axed the systems play to focus on chips and reference designs.
In the words of an ex-employee, "SolarMagic faced a very predictable problem: an entrepreneurial group within a publicly traded company with short-term revenue-per-person expectations. It could have worked if you have a champion -- but Brian [Halla] left."
The company has long specialized in power optimization and has a deep engineering bench. While it looked like their competitors were SolarEdge, Tigo and eIQ in DC-boost products and Enphase, Petra Solar, or SolarBridge in microinverters, it turns out that those firms are now their customers or at least potential customers. SolarMagic's actual competitors are the usual suspects: the power management chip firms ST, Maxim and NXP.
National Semiconductor was founded in 1959 and funded by the Sprague family in what is characterized as the beginning of the era of venture capital. National's founders and contributors have gone on to found or fund many of Silicon Valley's premier technology and venture firms. The firm sold $1.46 billion of analog devices, operational amplifiers and power management circuits in 2009.
Suntech and National are working together to develop a smart solar panel that includes the SolarMagic chipset from National. But Suntech has been flirting with a number of PV electronics vendors including Tigo Energy and Azuray Technologies.