Marriages between solar panel makers and inverters are becoming a common phenomenon.
Solyndra said Thursday it's teaming up with Satcon (NSDQ: SATC) to co-design and market systems with Solyndra's solar panels and Satcon's centralized inverters. Given the growing number of solar panel and inverter makers on the market today, finding new ways to market products to distributors and installers is more crucial than ever.
Inverters play a crucial role in any solar energy system – they convert the direct current produced from solar panels to alternating current for feeding the grid or home and business network. More companies are getting into the business of designing inverters to harvest power more efficiently, which would then provide faster returns on investments for system owners, whether they are home-or business owners or utilities.
An increasing number of inverter developers are seeking to work closely with panel makers to improve their designs and market their products jointly to distributors or installers. Petaluma, Calif.-based Enphase Energy has a supply agreement with solar panel maker Suntech Power, which promised to market Enphase's micro-inverters to its network of dealers in the United States. Unlike a centralized inverter, Enphase's inverter is attached to each solar panel, a design the company says can do a better job of capturing power produced.
In February, Enphase also announced a deal with Akeena Solar, which plans to build the micro-inverters into panels in a package branded "Andalay." Los Gatos, Calif.-based Akeena is in the business of designing and installing solar energy systems, and it has used solar panels from major panel makers such as Suntech Power and Kyocera Solar. But Akeena is keen on improving sales by designing a system that would be easy to install for roofers and electricians. Right now, many installers are companies that focus on installing solar energy systems.
"For the very firs time, electricians, roofers and HVAC contractors can get into the solar biz. There are hundreds of thousands of them in the country that are interested and [have] tried ordinary DC solar and found it too complicated," said Akeena's CEO Barry Cinnamon while discussing the company's first-quarter earnings with financial analysts Wednesday.
Solyndra's deal with Boston-based Satcon would enable them to jointly market their products to dealers and installers targeting the commercial rooftop market (Solyndra hasn't expressed an interest in the residential market). The deal represents the latest effort by Solyndra to popularize its unusual technology.
Solyndra has developed an unusual solar panel in which tubes lined with solar cells are placed side by side. The Fremont, Calif.-based startup unveiled its design publicly last fall and claimed that its panels can not only make use of direct sunlight but also reflected light from various angles (see Solyndra Rolls Out Tube-Shaped Thin Film and Solyndra Boosts Power Output).
Solyndra seems to be getting good reception for its panels, hence the multimillion-dollar deals in has announced recently. It also showed off a customer, a movie theater in Livermore, Calif., that now gets power from a 132-kilowatt system.
Solyndra said it picked Satcon because Satcon offers inverters in a wide range of power ratings.