At SunPower's analyst day earlier this month, CEO Tom Werner described international markets -- particularly emerging economies -- as central to the company's growth plans.
Faced with the potential for a slowdown in the U.S. market in 2017 and 2018, SunPower is looking to build a lot more projects in Africa, China and India using the local expertise of its parent company, Total. Werner said the international market, driven largely by China, could amount to $200 billion by 2020.
These are all high-demand markets. But they are also higher-risk markets that drive up the cost of capital.
Consequently, SunPower is looking to build higher-efficiency panels to offset those costs.
Three months ago, SunPower acquired the solar technology manufacturer Cogenra to help build a new line of modules designed with international markets in mind.
Cogenra has evolved considerably over the years, starting with hybrid PV-thermal systems, moving into low-concentrating PV, and then eventually pursuing module manufacturing using a stacking method for cells that boosts efficiency 15 percent by eliminating connective wires. Cogenra also produces single-axis trackers.
"This is a way to address high-cost markets by simply enabling more energy production," said Werner, who explained how SunPower plans to integrate with Cogenra in an interview.
Werner wouldn't disclose the price SunPower paid for Cogenra, but said that it was a full corporate acquisition paid in cash. Both the tracker team and the module technology team at Cogenra are fully integrated into SunPower. The p-type multicrystalline cells and modules, called the Performance Series, are being produced at a SunPower facility in Milpitas, California.
Werner said his company is "investing significantly and aggressively" to integrate Cogenra's technology. SunPower's lines are built to produce n-type monocrystalline cells and modules.
In the case of the P-Series, the front end of production is unique. That's where the cells are soldered on top of one another and bonded to create an interconnection. SunPower's flexible production lines, called a Universal Modco, allow for simple integration, said Werner.
Of the 4 gigawatts of module production that SunPower plans to have on-line in 2019, 2 gigawatts will be the higher-efficiency P-Series based on Cogenra's technology.
That diversity will also help SunPower provide more options for dealers in the residential or commercial sector, said Werner. He called it a "complement" to the rooftop business.
In some cases, customers are looking to pay for systems with cash on a tight budget. Those homeowners might be better served with a smaller system consisting of the higher-efficiency P-Series panels. "With different levels of product, we can capture a bigger share of the channel," said Werner.
However, the Cogenra acquisition was largely about giving SunPower more options as it seeks out opportunities in emerging markets.
"We care a lot about Africa and India," said Werner. "We're making a much bigger capital investment to create the right solution for those countries."