Solar Power’s Two Largest Players

Solar Power’s Two Largest Players
Solar Power’s Two Elephants

Until recently the top two companies in this category were SunEdison and SunPower.  Both of them manufacture solar equipment and also install and maintain solar systems, usually on a very large scale.

Recently SunEdison filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy and has proposed a Chapter 11 reorganization to the bankruptcy court.  The company became a victim of its own torrid growth, unable to meet the debt service on billions in debt and under fire for its failure to complete a number of acquisitions and large projects.

SunEdison, with roots that stretch back to the earliest days of the semiconductor electronics industry, was originally a unit of Monsanto Company.  Until recently it wasconsidered the leading renewable energy development company in the world, with a focus on wind as well as solar power.  The company is still active although it will be months before we learn whether it will make a fresh start -- that is the object of bankruptcy proceedings,after all -- and return to its growth pattern.

Where solar is concerned, the company not only designs and installs power-producing systems but also designs and produces the photovoltaic panels and other equipment involved.  The vast majority of SunEdison’s experience with solar power has involved very large-scale systems for commercial, governmental and industrial customers.  SunEdison has designed, developed, financed, underwritten, built and installed, monitored and maintained large-scale solar systems and even solar power plants for utilities and other power companies as well as for government agencies and large businesses and corporations.

SunEdison owns most of the solar power systems it has installed, and sells the electricity the systems produce to its customers.   In recent months, as it faced stresses from financial markets, the company has sought to sell some of its large portfolio of projects to other developers.

SunPower Corporation is owned by Total, Europe’s third largest oil company.  Like SunEdison, SunPower doesn’t merely install solar power systems but also designs and manufactures the photovoltaic cells and other parts used, including roof tiles and solar panels.  In fact, SunPower is known for its high-efficiency solar cells that feature the highest conversion efficiency available, converting more than 24% of the sun’s energy to electricity.

SunPower is also known for its patented “solar tracker” technology, which guides photovoltaic panels so that they continually face the sun’s rays more directly than conventional, flat rooftop systems can.

In addition, like SunEdison, SunPower designs and installs mostly large-scale systems for commercial and industrial clients.  SunPower maintains a leading market position in Spain, where 61 Megawatt of production have been installed or are under construction.  SunPower also constructed the largest photovoltaic solar power plant in the U.S., the 579 MW Solar Star plant in Nevada.

Both SunEdison and SunPower customarily use leases to finance solar systems.  This financing can allow customers to begin using solar power with little or no upfront cost, but requires long-term commitments to purchase electricity at escalating rates.