SunPower vs SolarCity

2015 Overview of Solar Tax Credits in Orange County, NY

When you think about the solar panels available in Orange and Rockland County, two brands in particular may come to mind: SunPower and SolarCity. Which company is better? Does one deserve your business more than the other? Compare SunPower vs SolarCity to come to your own conclusions.


SunPower vs SolarCity: Business Growth

SunPower launched in 1985 in Silicon Valley, but its real history dates back to the 1970s when co-founder Dr. Richard Swanson began pondering ways to make solar cells – like those used to power satellites – more cost effective for residential and business use. In the 1990s, SunPower solar technology was used to power experimental race cars and airplanes.

Once the 2000s came along, SunPower was consistently setting and breaking records for solar cell efficiency and solar-powered applications, including the flight of NASA’s Helios project, which achieved a world-record altitude of nearly 97,000 feet. The company has continually received funding and acknowledgements from influential companies and leaders, including NASA, PlanetSolar and President Obama.

Today, 30 years after it was officially incorporated, SunPower is a more profitable company than SolarCity. While net income doesn’t tell the whole story, it’s logical to opt for a company starting from a profitable base over one with an unknown financial future.

SunPower vs SolarCity: Panel Technology

While solar panels have largely grown in popularity due to falling product and installation costs, solar energy is still about technology at its core. It’s rare for low-cost solar manufacturers these days to create new technologies that didn’t exist a decade ago. Many still use the same equipment powered by the same technology, resulting in end products that don’t look much different from those developed back in the early 2000s.

However, this is what makes SunPower different from the rest. This company manufactures fundamentally different solar panels; instead of hovering around the industry standard of 14% to 16% efficient, SunPower holds the record for the most efficient panels available today at 21.5%. This high rating – combined with a slower degradation rate – means SunPower produces 70% more energy in the first 25 years than conventional panels.

Such an impressive rating is made possible by the Maxeon solar cells used in SunPower panels. These cells come with many energy-efficient features, including:

  • No gridlines to allow the sun’s light to fully penetrate the cell
  • Unique light-trapping surface to grab more power
  • Solid copper foundation for massive strength and longevity
  • Ultra pure monocrystalline silicon base to deliver optimal power conversion
  • Anti-reflective coating to produce more energy


SunPower vs SolarCity: Business Growth

Founded in 2006, SolarCity was launched by two brothers with a dream of providing clean energy to businesses, homeowners and schools.

While launched with good intentions, SolarCity has not grown into the profitable business that SunPower has. In fact, the company has lost almost $1.2 billion since 2008. As of the end of 2015, SolarCity is not cash flow positive.

CNN Money reported on October 30 that SolarCity shares plunged 21% the day before, following a $204 million trading loss. An even bigger concern for shareholders is the company’s announcement that it plans to reduce growth plans to save money and become cash flow positive by the end of 2016.

Regardless of whether you’re looking to invest in SolarCity stocks or have SolarCity panels installed on your roof, the reduced focus on growth just so the company can stay afloat is a major turnoff.

SunPower vs SolarCity: Panel Technology

Unlike SunPower – which never stops innovating to create the best possible products – SolarCity is content to provide less expensive panels at around 14% to 16% efficient. This makes SolarCity panels more of a commodity than an innovative technological achievement.

Having said that, SolarCity did announce at the start of October 2015 that it would soon begin production on what it claims to be “the world’s most efficient rooftop solar panel” with an efficiency rating of 22%. This claim is bold, and SunPower already has reliable data to back up its 21.5% efficient panels. It won’t be possible to compare the top panels of SunPower vs SolarCity until the new line completes its pilot phase.

A spokesperson from SunPower had this to say about SolarCity’s bold claim: “SunPower always welcomes others to the efficiency race. It’s great that we all agree – efficiency matters. We’re proud that we’ve been shipping the industry’s highest efficiency solar panels for years and some of our customers are receiving panels with greater than 22 percent efficiency.”

In the end, it should be clear which company you would rather do business with: one with 30 years of experience and a decade of record-breaking solar panels or one with financial struggles, growth problems and unsubstantiated claims. The SunPower vs SolarCity debate isn’t really a debate at all. Choose SunPower to enjoy the best solar panels at the highest efficiency ratings and the greatest longevity.

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