What do solar power developers want? One-stop shopping, apparently.
That's why Suntech Power is launching a set of offerings that combine its specially designed line of solar panels with inverters and trackers from selected companies.
Branded Reliathon, Suntech and its partners say buying these bundled goods – along with warranties designed for Reliathon solar panels – would save project developers time and money.
"We spent a lot of time over the last nine months with [general contractors], developers and other customers and asked them what they needed," said Andrew Beebe, vice president of global product strategy at Suntech. "What we came to realize is they need their own solutions, an integrated bundle."
Teaming up with other equipment makers to co-develop and cross-promote products make sense in an increasingly crowded market. Suntech, one of the world's largest solar panel makers, faces intense competition.
It's not the first to carry out such a strategy. Plenty of other companies are customizing their product designs for their partners' equipment in order to distinguish themselves from other players.
Just yesterday, mounting-system builder SunLink said it would begin selling a rack engineered specifically for Nanosolar's thin-film panels in rooftop installations.
Companies such as SunPower, meanwhile, develop their own panels and trackers. Trackers tilt the solar panels to follow the sun's movement throughout the day in order to maximize energy production.
But China-based Suntech says its Reliathon offerings, which are engineered for utility-scale, ground-mounted solar farms, go beyond what others are hawking.
Reliathon's lineup includes a new 270-watt silicon panel with built-in grounding and wires that would otherwise be put together in the field; a tracker designed for Reliathon solar panels by Array Technologies; and inverters made by Advanced Energy Industries, Satcon, Siemens Industry or SMA Solar Technology.
Customers who prefer not to use trackers would use Suntech's own mounting systems, Beebe said.
Suntech has also written a new warranty policy for its Reliathon panels in order to address what it says are shortcomings of warranties that are commonly offered by manufacturers today, including other lines of panels from Suntech.
The Reliathon solar panels come with a 12-year workmanship warranty instead of the standard five years, Suntech said. They also have a 25-year performance warranty that guarantees a minimum power output for each year of the 25-year period (0.5 percent decline from year two to 21 and 1 percent from year 22 to 25).
That's a different approach than conventional performance warranties that guarantee a minimum power output within a 10- to 12-year or a 25-year period. Typically the guaranteed output for the first 10 to 12 years is 90 percent of what the panels are supposed to produce, and 80 percent for the whole 25-year stretch.
Beebe said investors would prefer the stronger performance backing, which provide nearly 14 percent more guaranteed power output over 25 years.
"The project finance guys will only book revenues or place values against guaranteed power output of a given system. If you can decrease costs and increase revenue potential, then that increases the profitability of a given project," Beebe said.
Customers would receive a nice discount by choosing Reliathon instead of buying the equipment separately, though Beebe declined to disclose pricing.
The Reliathon solar panels would cost more than other Suntech panels. But the expense would be easily offset by the savings in labor and from getting discounts among Reliathon suppliers, Beebe said.
Using Reliathon for a project that is 10 megawatts or larger would save both the costs of labor and the equipment other than panels by up to 25 percent, Suntech claims. The overall savings for installing a system of at least 10 megawatts in generation capacity (all equipment and labor) could reach 10 percent, compared with a system that uses other, less expensive Suntech solar panels, Beebe said.
Suntech and its Reliathon partners plan to start shipping the bundled products in the second quarter of next year. The companies already have lined up developers and builders who would use Reliathon if they win bids to build solar power plants for utilities.