SunPower’s New Record Solar PV Module Efficiency – The Importance of Efficiency on Residential Rooftop Solar

Mansfield Residence - Port Townsend

Mansfield Residence – 7.85 KW SunPower Array on Fronius 10 KW Inverter – Port Townsend – December 2015

SunPower last year verified 25.2% efficiency in a manufactured silicon-based PV cell.  This year, they have integrated that cell into a manufactured PV module which attains 24.1% efficiency.  When making efficiency comparisons, the cell-level efficiency is less relevant as in order for us to utilize that power, we need the cells built into a module, which will necessarily be slightly less efficient due to the space between cells, and the small area occupied by the frame.

When we are designing a system for a home’s roof, we usually need to make as much power as we can on the available roof space in order generate the largest percentage of the home’s annual energy.  So using the most efficient modules available is important to us.  While these SunPower modules are not the least expensive on the market, when we can put up an array with higher power rating in the same space as an average array, we can recognize relatively lower $/watt installation costs on all the other aspects of the system.

We are now commonly utilizing SunPower X-21 345 watt modules, which are 21.5% efficient at the module level.  Their high efficiency, finish quality, and industry-leading warranty make SunPower an excellent choice for almost all of our clients.  For example on the installation from last winter pictured above, we used the SunPower 327 watt modules to get 7.85 KW in the available un-shaded space.  If we had used an average module, running ~290 watts in this size right now, that would be a 6.96 KW array in the same space, 12% less power installed for the same amount of work.

For all Solar Homeowners – Remember the June 30th Production Meter Reading Date

The annual Washington solar production incentive payments are based on the fiscal year from July 1 – June 30, so everybody with a grid-tied pv system is about to read their meters for the 2015/2016 year.

You will get a letter containing this form below.  If you are a PSE customer, the form will be filled out for you.  We are not certain what the Jefferson and Clallam PUD’s are planning this year.  We have highlighted some of the important fields.

The main thing you want to bear in mind is to go read your production meter on June 30.  Even if you are in PSE territory and they are going to read your meter and provide the information for you, we recommend reading your meter yourself at least annually.  Then you will want to compare that figure with last year’s June 30 reading in order to get your annual production figure for this year.  You will also be able to copy your DOR Tax Reporting Number from the top of last year’s form.

Unless you are among the minority of our clients who have the Made in Washington PV modules from Silicon Energy or Itek, you will use the field highlighted to report your total kilowatt-hours for the year.  Although the base rate is stated as $0.15, all utilities in which we operate are or will be pro-rating this base rate due to the fact that the applications are now exceeding the available incentive pool,  of 0.5% of taxable utility revenues.


WA solar incentive form - 2016

Jefferson Solar Tour and EV Round-Up – Saturday, July 9, 10 AM – 3 PM

In the midst of our series of 2016 Solar Tours, we bring the Jefferson Solar Tour and EV Round-Up.  This will be our second year of making this Solar Tour petroleum-free.  Last year, we had 6 different electric vehicles (Nissan Leafs, Toyota RAV4 EV, BMW i3, Smart EV, and Tesla) carrying tour-goers to the local solar homes.

The Jefferson Solar Tour is on Saturday July 9th, and will commence at 10 AM with tour orientation and Solar 101.  The local solar homes will be open from 11 AM – 3 PM, and while this is a self-guided tour, we hope everyone can drive or be passenger in an electric vehicle.  With our 10 KW PV system and Level II EV charging equipment here, we try to run these tours on 100% solar power.

Kick-off Location: Power Trip Energy, 83 Denny Avenue, Port Townsend,  where you will be able to pick up maps and information, as well as ask questions of the Power Trip Energy staff.

10 AM – 11 AM “Spin Your Meter Backwards” Solar 101 workshop

10 AM – 3 PM: Tour info, Maps, & Staff available for questions

11 AM – 3 PM: Solar Homes Open for Touring  

Anne Sextro Leaf Solar Tour


Power Trip Energy Shop, 2014, time for another company photo, if we can ever get the nine of us standing still in one spot.


North Kitsap Solar Tour – First Solar Tour of the Season – Saturday May 14th

People tell us that the solar tours are the most valuable educational events we conduct.  Over the years, we have created a curriculum and determined how to make a focused informational solar  tour that works well for attendees and hosts alike.

For more details on the entire summer tour schedule, see

The first tour will involve three homes in North Kitsap (Kingston, Poulsbo, & Indianola) that are different examples of state-of-the-technology grid-tied solar PV systems.

The kick-off location for the North Kitsap Solar Tour will be the Kingston Community Center at 26159 Dulay Rd NE, Kingston, on Saturday May 14th.  From 10 AM – 11 AM,  there will be a brief presentation letting you know what you will see, and providing context for your site visits, maps will be available, and solar experts on hand to answer any questions.  The sites themselves will be open for touring from 11 AM – 3 PM.





High solar demand, lower equipment prices, higher wattages, bring continued solar installation growth on Olympic Peninsula

There are several trends in the solar industry that are benefitting us locally, and driving our growth.  We are currently installing over 60 KW per month, having installed 180 KW in Q4 of last year, and Q1 of 2016.  That means in each quarter, we are installing as much solar as we did the first five years of business from 2003 through 2007.

We continue to see prices on pv modules slowly decrease, mostly as a result of global manufacturing capacity increases and efficiency gains.  SunPower specifically has seen recent gains at its fourth “Fab” and is now approaching producing 1500 MW of pv per year.

So as a result of this increased manufacturing capacity, SunPower has been able to give us a fairly significant price cut recently, in addition to adding a 360 watt version of their standard residential pv module.  We have been installing mostly 327’s for the last year, though now the 345’s are very close in price per watt and will make up the bulk of our designs for the remainder of the year.  In cases where we want to make the most power possible, we will give our clients the option of the 360 watt product.

The increased installation rate here at Power Trip Energy also creates an interesting dynamic in terms of our pricing.  With more and larger projects being installed each month, without our overhead significantly increasing, we can lower our installation charges on each job.  So the lower equipment costs are actually resulting in lower labor charges as well.

The extension of the federal tax credit has removed a major deadline we were facing at the end of 2016 so we can intelligently plan for manageable growth this year.  The waning state incentives should be considered, since we have about four more good summers to capitalize on those annual production payments from the state.

We don’t know how long these market conditions will persist, but we do know there has never been a better time to install a grid-tied pv system in Washington.

Gloor Residence, 6.21kw SunPower,  Sequim 2015

6.21kw SunPower, Sequim 2015

SunPower Dealer Conference Report – Feb 2016

I spent two days this week in Phoenix at the SunPower Dealer Conference, along with about 400 other dealers.  
The solar industry has many examples of companies that embrace the triple bottom line of creating profits, benefiting the environment, and serving their community.  However SunPower performs all of these more than any company with which we have interacted in our 13 years of solar advocacy and installation.
From a financial standpoint, SunPower is a standout in the industry with revenue growth and strong gross profits over time.  They have a strong balance sheet with over $140M in warranty reserves, and $1B in total liquidity (it is fair to note they also have $1B in debt to service, building cutting-edge high-tech factories is expensive.)
They have invested tremendous amounts into R&D (over $100M annually) and are now opening their 4th “Fab” (crystalline silicon cell factory) in the Philippines, which will take them to an annual production capacity of over 1.6 GW.
In terms of benefiting the environment, this is fairly easy for a PV Manufacturer to accomplish, after all, that is one of the main reasons for the equipment – to alleviate the need for fossil fuel derived energy through the production of clean solar electricity.  There are however different ways that a manufacturer can go about their business.  SunPower strives to lead in terms of manufacturing techniques, cleanliness, water use, and recycling.  Their facility in the Philippines has been awarded the Cradle to Cradle Silver Certification which addresses these issues; they are the only PV manufacturer to garner this award.  Their module assembly plant which I have visited in Mexicali, Mexico is clean and impressive, achieving Zero Waste to Landfill status and deriving over 40% of the energy it uses through its on-site PV arrays that function as car ports in the parking lot.
The way in which SunPower interacts with its community is an aspect that has taken me years to fully appreciate.  I include its end-user customers, their dealer partners (that’s us), and its employees.  I don’t know much about their relationships with their vendors, shareholders and financiers, but I do see that they are successful in bringing in major financing to accomplish their goals, and setting up innovative programs with their peers (8Point3, a joint development company and partnership with the other leading North American PV manufacturer First Solar), and building utility scale projects for prudent customers (Berkshire Hathaway.)
Among PV manufacturers in the US at least, SunPower is the only one that eschews distribution in order to have a direct delivery relationship with its dealers, which is usually good, but can sometimes be frustrating, although it surely highlights our common interests in improving those logistics.  They continually invest in us by offering training and improvements to their design and ordering processes.  Their reporting requirements sometimes feel onerous since no other PV manufacturer asks anything of us, but in the long run, it will benefit everybody – namely through their direct connection with the customers.  We sometimes get calls from other dealers asking for us to sell them SunPower modules so they can install for a customer that wants it – sorry, in our agreement with SunPower we commit to installing everything we buy from them, and to having a direct relationship with the end user client.  SunPower does everything they can to guarantee that the customer has the most positive experience possible, and that the installer is accountable to SunPower as well as to the customer.
Having never been a SunPower employee, I can’t say what that is like personally.  However from my 8 year experience as a dealer and from the multiple years I have been going to the conference, I have seen that their employees seem very happy, and I have never detected any fatigue, insincerity, or cynicism from anyone I have met with the company.  Several of the people we have worked with have moved on to new positions in the company of greater responsibility.  Also at the dealer conference, the access to the executive team is very good.  They help the dealer network understand their significance in relation to the other business channels.  And like us here at Power Trip Energy, while fiscal responsibility and the economics of solar are important, they never lose sight of the big picture as to why the rapid and ubiquitous installation of solar is crucial.
SunPower Exec Team
From the technological perspective, there has never been a question as to why SunPower is our favorite manufacturer.  By making the highest efficiency modules on the market, we can help our clients make more energy within whatever site or budgetary limitations they may face.  Although they are surely not the least expensive product in terms of dollars per watt, labor costs of installing a 10 KW array are lower when it can be done with 30 modules rather than 36.  Their acquisition of SolarBridge, and their integration of micro-inverters into the manufacturing process in order to create a true AC module, complete with UL 2703 listing and lack of any DC wiring, will further improve our installation efficiency and decrease other balance of system costs.
For all of these reasons, SunPower has earned nearly all of our PV business in the last year, and unless another manufacturer dramatically improves their offerings, we expect this coming year to be the same.  We are looking forward to growing with SunPower and our customers in this period of great opportunity to install clean distributed solar generation here on the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas.

USDA REAP Grant Seminar – Wed, Feb 17 – 9 AM – 12 Noon – Chimacum Grange


Dungeness Valley Creamery dairy barn


In 2015, Power Trip Energy assisted three local businesses receive USDA REAP grants that provided 25% of the funds for solar PV and other energy efficiency projects.  We have installed solar PV at two of these businesses and expect to install at the third once the development of their new location is complete.  

Your local business, farm or ranch may be eligible for grant funding for a renewable energy or energy efficiency system. For those who own a for-profit small business, farm or ranch in Jefferson or Clallam Counties, there is an upcoming opportunity to learn about who qualifies and how to apply for a USDA Rural Development Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant to cover 25% of the cost of a renewable energy system or energy efficiency upgrades. Carlotta Donisi, business specialist with USDA Rural Development will be leading a workshop on February 17th from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm at the Chimacum Grange, 9572 Rhody Drive, Chimacum, WA. The workshop will cover grant and guaranteed loan information as well as grant writing assistance. Please RSVP to
In 2015, ALL REAP grant applicants in Washington State were funded including two businesses in Jefferson County (Finnriver Cidery, and Wallyworks Enterprise) and one in Clallam County (Dungeness Valley Creamery.)
Funds may be used for renewable energy systems such as solar or wind generation, as well as for energy efficiency improvements such as HVAC systems, insulation, lighting, cooling or refrigeration units, doors and windows, etc. See for more details.
Grants for up to 25% of the total eligible project cost are possible, as well as loan guarantees.
Previous grant awardees in the North Olympic Peninsula had this to say about the program:
  • Ryan McCarthey of Dungeness Valley Creamery noted “The solar PV system purchased with the assistance of the REAP program helped us decrease our energy costs and become more energy-independent.” He also stated: “Producing our own clean renewable energy not only reduces operating expenses, but it helps us communicate to our customers our passion and goals as a business.  Being environmentally conscious and big picture thinking is integral to our long term sustainability.”
  • Eric Jorgensen of Finnriver Cidery commented: “Finnriver is extremely excited to be partnering with the USDA REAP program and a local solar installer to work on a major solar installation at our new facility.  The advice and assistance we received from USDA program staff were very helpful in helping us submit our successful application.  If you are considering any alternative energy improvements we highly recommend finding out if you might be eligible for this great program!” And Crystie Kisler of Finnriver added It’s important for our community to explore alternative energy solutions and this grant offers us a way to bring more innovative projects into our area.”
  • IMG_20151115_164739

Washington State Solar Incentives – Cost Recovery Program (Existing and Ending) and HB 2346 (Proposed Legislation Being Considered in Olympia Now)

As many of you know, the declining state solar incentives here in Washington State are scheduled to completely sunset June 30, 2020.  The cost recovery program has been one block in the foundation of solar economics here in Washington State since 2007.  In that time, we have seen continued geometric growth, increasing the installed KW by ~ 40% per year.  However its success is the cause of distress in many areas.  Because the cap on the incentive was fairly low, that cap has now been breached in many utility areas, including Jefferson PUD.  In Jefferson PUD for the program year July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015, incentive applications were approximately $225,000 and the overall incentive pool was only about $155,000, resulting in prorated payments down to 70% of the regular base rate.  At the inception of this program, there was virtually no solar PV market in the state, and nobody expected to exceed these caps by this time.  This is an unfortunate and unexpected loss for the early adopters now that solar has gone mainstream.

Without a remedy to the loss of state incentives, we may well see a leveling-off of the solar growth.  This might well result in layoffs at our company and others across the state.  In Washington State right now, there are 128 companies that self-identify as solar companies, employing about 2400 people, nearly all installers.  At Power Trip Energy Corp, we currently employ 10 people, and have installed about 3 MW since 2003.

State-wide solar capacity is now 60 MW installed, up from 11 MW in 2014, and 6 MW in 2012.  Almost all of this installed PV is customer-owned, distributed generation making power at the point of use, and paid for by the property-owners.  The state offers no up-front rebates, however there is a sales tax exemption, and also the 30% federal tax credit, which has helped people decide to invest their own money in solar PV on their homes and businesses.  The main support the state offers for the installation of PV is the production incentive which pays for all PV produced, creating an economic mechanism for the additional value we see in solar above and beyond electricity generated by coal, nuclear, and the federal hydro-system on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  As mentioned above, the state solar production incentive is nearing the end of its useful life.

Despite the current solar capacity of 60 MW seeming large to some of us, it is important to remember that this is still responsible for much less than 0.5% of our overall electricity portfolio.

There is currently proposed legislation that will create a second phase of state incentives, which will close the existing program and accept new enrollments through 2020 and would provide 10 years of incentive stability for new enrollees in which to make fair financial returns, while decreasing the incentive rate structure every year between 2017 and 2020.  This is called HB 2346  – Promoting a Sustainable Renewable Energy Industry – and you can view the full details here:

This bill is the result of a two year process bringing together multiple stakeholders including the nascent solar industry, utilities, environmental groups, and consumer advocates.  We are strong supporters of this bill for many reasons.

Since 2002, we have placed our own self-interests inline with the belief that our community and our state would be well-served by developing a robust renewable energy infrastructure.  We have made the case that individuals should invest in renewable energy on their own homes as a way to generate some of their own capital, decrease their dependence and expenditures upon utilities.  This serves the individuals by increasing the value of their home, and decreasing their energy bills in the long run.  It serves the community by keeping more money local, and making the overall community more resilient.  It also contributes to the overall global benefit of producing energy without contributing the the carbon emissions of coal, the radioactive waste of nuclear plants, or the environmental degradation of the mammoth federal hydro system.

This bill supports those goals by allowing individuals to continue to benefit from investments they make in their own home through the diversion of a portion of the state’s utility tax.  Due to the relative low caps per project on this incentive, it is only incentivising small (generally under 20 KW) solar pv arrays, which will nearly all be installed on residential and small business rooftops.  Since these arrays are installed at the point of use, there are no inefficiencies from transmission losses.

In this way and others, the promotion of distributed solar energy benefits all ratepayers.  Northwesterners do benefit from the cheap electricity produced from investments made in this federal system decades ago (despite its decimation of salmon and other problems).  Likewise will future generations benefit from our efforts today, as we diversify our energy infrastructure with more solar producing clean renewable distributed energy.

For these reasons and more, we support HB 2346, and urge you to do the same.



2016 forecast – 2015 review

As we take off running into 2016, here is a brief look back at 2015.   We are struck by the progress on several clean energy fronts in the second half of 2015.



The Paris Agreement represents unprecedented multi-national cooperation, and may finally be an initial international step in addressing the challenge of carbon emissions over the coming decades.

The EPA’s Clean Energy Plan announced in August will hasten the transition to non-carbon based electricity generation.  This represents a significant increase in the EPA’s authority over state’s energy policies and fuel use, although it doesn’t dictate how states reduce CO2 emissions, just that they must reduce or they must pay to participate in carbon reduction markets.  This will be a long and winding legal road through numerous court challenges, but certainly represents a progressive step towards cleaner air.


The Federal Investment Tax Credit for Solar was extended in federal funding bills passed and signed in December contain the most significant federal legislation for solar in a decade.  The 30% tax credit remains in place until 2019, and then decreases for two years before expiring for residential projects, and remaining at 10% permanently for commercial projects.

This ITC extension is very good for the solar industry as well as taxpayers because instead of looking at a bubble in 2016 and perhaps a decrease in 2017, we are looking at several years of more predictable growth.  A very good forecast and details of the tax credit schedule are in this Utility Dive article:


California’s Net Metering 2.0 does not affect us directly, but represents a major confirmation that very high levels of distributed pv should be valued at the retail rate at the point of use.


Unfortunately we have seen some back-sliding in some states where the utility industry has a more unified influence on the government regulators, as in Nevada and Arizona.


Locally we saw another record year for pv installations in the state and at Power Trip Energy.  Here at Power Trip Energy, we installed 570 KW last year, an 18% increase over the previous year, compared to ~40% growth overall in the state in 2015.

The amount of pv installed now exceeds the legislative mandates from the 1998 net metering law in many Washington state utilities, due to its minuscule cap (0.5% of the 1996 peak load.)  The amount of clean solar energy generated now causes incentive payments to be significantly reduced in many utility territories due to the small incentive pool set aside for this cost recovery program by the legislature (0.5% of electrical revenue.). For example Jefferson County residents with solar saw their incentives reduced by 30% last year, and will see further reductions every year until 2020, when the program was scheduled to end. 

The question will now be what the WA legislature does.  We stand at a crossroads here in WA.  Will we lead the way to a cleaner environment and healthier economy, with individuals empowered to improve their homes and reap the benefits.  Or will we back slide at the behest of utilities which are clawing to hold onto a past they can not have as their future?  We are founding members of Solar Installers of Washington and through this group we are supporting efforts in Olympia to address our state programs.

In Olympia right now, House Bill 2346 is a bipartisan effort to extend the Washington State incentives introduced by Rep Jeff Morris (D) and Rep Norma Smith (R).  This bill will decrease the incentive amounts available to new installations, but will increase the amount of the incentive fund pool.  We strongly support HB 2346, and recommend you learn more here:

Regardless of what our national and state governments do, we will continue to serve our clients by surveying the renewable energy industry and providing our best assessment of  what makes the most sense for our clients, and performing quality turn-key installations.

Thank you to our clients and best wishes to everyone for 2016!

11 KW of SunPower PV at Nancy's house in Kingston, WA

11 KW of SunPower PV at Nancy’s home in Kingston, WA

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