The Best Solar Panels in Zimbabwe - SunPower Solar Panels (Updated 2022)

Since the launch of the high-performance IBC solar cells back in 2007, SunPower has been regarded as the world’s leading solar cell and panel manufacturer. 

Now known as Maxeon solar Technologies, Sunpower still produces the world’s most efficient solar panels based on the patented IBC cell technology and also boasts the leading performance warranty with a minimum 92% guaranteed rated output after 25-years. The more cost-effective performance or P series panels from SunPower also boast very high quality and great performance backed by a 25-year product warranty.

Company background

SunPower Corporation has a rich history in solar manufacturing and has long been regarded as the solar industry technology leader. This is a very big claim but it’s hard to disagree as they currently produce the most efficient residential solar panel, the Maxeon 3, with the lowest degradation and best performance warranty on the market. 
SunPower CEO - Peter Faricy
SunPower CEO - Peter Faricy
Although like most things, high performance comes at a high price and SunPower panels are some of the most expensive in the world.

SunPower started in a lab in the early ’80s and officially became SunPower in 1988. After securing funding from investors, the R & D team developed record-breaking PV cells using advanced cell technology, which were later used by the NASA space program along with Honda to win the world solar challenge car race in Australia. These achievements put SunPower on the world stage as one of the leading solar cell manufacturers and laid the foundation for the high-efficiency Maxeon IBC cells used today.

SunPower Splits into two companies

Back in 2019, Sunpower announced it will be separating into two independent public companies - SunPower and Maxeon Solar, with each company focusing on a different market segment.

SunPower will focus purely on the North American Solar market with distribution, sales and installation of solar panels, energy storage and associated products.

Maxeon Solar or ‘Maxeon Solar Technologies’ will become the global developer, distributor and manufacturer of the range of SunPower Maxeon cells and Solar panels.

SunPower has expanded and built advanced facilities in the US, Mexico, Europe, Malaysia, China and the Philippines to manufacture high-efficiency solar panels. Over the last decade, the only other manufacturer to compete at the same level of efficiency and performance was LG Energy with the Neon R range of panels which use a similar IBC cell technology. However, LG has now decided to cease manufacturing from mid-2022.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for SunPower. Over recent years the also company ran into serious financial issues and racked up a considerable level of debt due to high overhead costs and pressure from the extremely competitive Chinese and Korean panel manufacturers. The financial troubles forced SunPower to restructure its business and manufacturing operations and now the financial situation is looking positive. See detailed company analysis in this article from PV-Tech.

Maxeon IBC Cells

SunPower began mass production of the high-performance IBC or Interdigitated Back Contact cells back in 2007 and have led the industry ever since using what is considered the most efficient solar cell technology available today. Unlike the common monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells which use front-mounted busbars and fingers to collect current, IBC cells have a fine grid of conductors integrated into the rear side of the cell.

 The IBC cell design which SunPower refers to as ‘Maxeon’ uses a grid of N-type silicon on the rear side which increases efficiency by eliminating the need for front exposed busbars that partially shade the cell. The SunPower IBC cells are built on a base of high purity N-type silicon that increases efficiency and performance and offers a very low rate of degradation, this is the basis of SunPower’s leading performance warranty of 88.25% retained capacity after 40 years on the Maxeon series panels.

The current generation (3 & 4) IBC cells from SunPower use the smaller format 5” (125mm x 125mm) size configured in a 96-cell layout with 8 rows of 12 cells. Almost all other manufacturers have moved to the 6” (156mm x 156mm) cell size which makes up a common 60 cell panel. 

Cell size doesn’t affect performance but more cells do equate to a higher voltage which can be problematic for domestic installations which can have a voltage limit of 600V (depending on the country). A higher voltage means fewer panels can be linked together in a string before the upper voltage limit is reached.

For details on Enphase IQ7 and SunPower Maxeon compatibility and other solar questions, check out our solar power forum.

Larger 104 cell format

The latest generation panels from SunPower, simply named the Maxeon 2 and Maxeon 3, are built around a new 104 cell format with 8 rows of 13 gen-3 cells, to create the worlds most powerful residential solar panel at 400Wp. The full series Maxeon 3 panels range from 370 to 400W and replaced the older X Series while the Maxeon 2 panels ranging from 340W to 360W replaced the older E series.

Shingled cells are a proven technology that uses overlapping thin cell strips assembled horizontally or vertically across the panel. The SunPower P series panels described in more detail below, use the vertical format with 6 long cell strips in parallel. This offer several benefits including improved shade tolerance when partially shaded as each long cell works independently. 

The thin shingled cells are also more flexible and less prone to micro-cracking which is a common issue with conventional full-size square cells. These are made by laser cutting a normal full-size cell into 5 or 6 strips and layering them in a shingle configuration using rear side conductive adhesive. The slight overlap of each cell strip hides a single busbar which interconnects the cell strips. 

This unique design covers more of the panel surface area and doesn’t require front side busbar connections which partially shade the cell, thus increasing the panel efficiency much like IBC cells.

The P series uses conventional P-type silicon which is not as efficient as the high-performance N-type silicon used the Maxeon IBC cells. However, it much more cost-effective and still achieve a very respectable efficiency of 20.4%. The P series is also backed by the SunPower 25 manufacturer’s warranty.

The SunPower Range Of Panels

While the renowned Maxeon series panels are some of the world’s best-performing panels, the more cost-effective Performance series from SunPower offers a diverse range of panels for residential, commercial and utility-scale solar installations. The new Maxeon 2 and 3 series panels replaced the previous E and X series which used the same high-efficiency IBC cells to compete in the premium end of the market. The price-competitive performance or P-series panels uses the unique overlapping shingle cell design and complete more in the commercial market. 
SunPower CEO - Peter Faricy
SunPower CEO - Peter Faricy 
It is worth noting that many of the Maxeon 5 and Performance series panels are also available as AC panels with integrated micro inverters from Enphase Energy.

Maxeon 3

The Maxeon 3 is the new flagship of the SunPower range and is available in a range of sizes from 370 to 400W for residential installations. Based on the Gen 3 high-performance IBC cell technology, the new 104 cell format increases power output and tops the range with an impressive 22.8% maximum efficiency, making it the most efficient solar panel in the world.


Maxeon 2

Like the Maxeon 3, the new Maxeon 2 panel is based on the Gen 3 high-performance IBC cell technology and uses the same 104 cell format to increase power output further and tops the range with a 20.4% maximum efficiency. However, as it is based on the slightly lower-spec IBC cells the Maxeon 2 panels have a lower power rating of 340 to 360W, making them more affordable but still some of the most efficient residential solar panels available.

Maxeon 5 Series

SunPower’s next-generation A series AC panels and the new Maxeon 5 series are built on what Sunpower refers to as the Next Generation Technology IBC (Interdigitated Back Contact) 'Gen 5' cells. These new larger format 6” IBC cells are fabricated on a new line at its manufacturing plant in Malaysia. The new design is used to produce panels rated from 390W to 415W making them some of the most powerful residential panels currently available. 

The alternative A series version of the Maxeon 5 panel incorporates a microinverter from Enphase Energy.

Maxeon 6 Series

The latest panels from SunPower released in 2022 are the Maxeon 6 range. They are built on the same 66 cell format as the five series but use the next generation Maxeon 6 cells to boost efficiency to a record-breaking 22.8%, making this the most efficient solar panel manufactured for residential use. The new six series panels are slightly larger than the five series, coming in at 1032mm wide by 1872mm high. Naturally, power output has also boosted with a 6% increase taking the peak power rating from 415W to 440W. Like the 5 series, the A series version of the Maxeon 6 panel incorporates an Enphase Energy microinverter. To cater for the commercial market, the Maxeon 6 will also be available in a larger 72 cell format with increased power ratings from 450W to 475W.

Performance Series

As described in detail earlier the Performance series, or P series panels, use a unique shingled cell design with 6 long strings of shingled cells in parallel. This design is more cost-effective and offers additional shade tolerance when partially shaded. The thin singled PERC cells, based on common P-type silicon, are more flexible and less prone to micro-cracking which is a common issue with conventional full-size square cells. The P series is available in three varieties, with the smaller residential panels rated from 370W up to 390W, the larger format commercial panels are available in 405W to 420W power ratings, and the extra-large utility size panels are available from 475W to 500W.

Despite being based on standard P-type silicon, SunPower still offers an impressive 25-year performance warranty as well as a 25-year manufacturer’s warranty on all P Series panels.

Warranty And Service

In a surprising announcement, SunPower Maxeon Technologies decided to increase its product and performance warranty on the Maxeon range of panels from 25 years to an incredible 40 years, making it the longest solar panel warranty in the industry by a decade. The company is confident it can support the extended warranty based on a detailed failure analysis program which reported an extremely low 0.005% return rate based on the warranty claim data from the 15 million panels sold over the last few decades.

The new 40-year warranty guarantees a minimum power output of 88.3% in year 40, meaning power output will only degrade by around 0.25% every year over the warranty period. Maxeon claims this is attainable due to the proven long-term reliability and performance of Maxeon IBC cells built on a unique patented metal foundation. 

This durable cell structure can withstand high thermal stresses and dissipate more heat, meaning they are not as suspectable to hot spot formation or micro-cracks, which is a common problem with the standard cells most competing panel manufacturers use.

The Sunpower Performance or P series panels are backed by a 25-year warranty product warranty which guarantees a minimum of 87.2% power output after 25 years of use.

Sustainability

SunPower has long been the industry leader in sustainability and is the only manufacturer we know of that uses a full closed-loop sustainability strategy. SunPower’s philosophy is to drive sustainable business practices at every stage of the product life cycle and beyond. This strategy paved the way for SunPower to become the winner of the first annual Sustainability Award from pv magazine.

Cradle to cradle certified

The SunPower Maxeon Panels are the world's first solar panels to be Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM which makes SunPower the worlds leading manufacturer when it comes to sustainability.

SunPower SunVault Home Battery System:

SunPower first entered the highly competitive energy storage market in late 2019 with the Equinox storage system, but in 2021, it was rebranded as SunVault Storage. The system is comprised of two main components, the large module containing a 13kWh battery and inverter, and the smaller Hub+, which is the brains of the system and houses the load centre and grid isolation equipment to enable off-grid operation in the event of a grid outage. 

This configuration is very similar to the well-known Tesla Powerwall 2. However, unlike Tesla, the SunVault uses longer-lasting and safer lithium Ferro phosphate (LFP) cells which have become the chemistry of choice for stationary battery storage systems.

Sunpower SunVault Storage system features 13kWh of battery capacity and a 6.8kW continuous power rating.

Like the Tesla Powerwall 2 and Sonnen ECO battery systems, the SunVault system is AC-coupled, meaning it is connected directly to the main switchboard (load centre) and can also be retrofitted to homes with an existing solar system. However, the SunVault system has a higher continuous output power rating of 6.8kW, making it the most powerful AC-coupled home battery system available. For additional capacity, up to two SunVault systems can be connected together, providing 26kWh of usable storage capacity, which is more than enough for most homes. Like the premium SunPower panels, the SunVault system cost is higher than most coming in at US$16,000 plus installation.

Conclusion

SunPower is widely regarded as a world-leading solar panel manufacturer and very few companies can compete at the same level of performance and quality. In terms of outright efficiency, SunPower still leads the world with the Maxeon series holding the top spot as the most efficient solar panel with the lowest degradation and best performance warranty. Although not surprisingly, the Maxeon panels are also the most expensive on the market. However, like most things, quality comes at a price. Considering that solar is a long-term investment, the higher price also equates to better performance, improved reliability, and more energy generation over the system's life.

The financial issues faced by SunPower over recent years raised some concerns over the ability of SunPower to honour the long-term warranty commitments. Despite this, SunPower is still ranked as number one in the US and many parts of the world by installers and customers alike. In other markets like Asia and Australia, SunPower does not have a huge presence, and the very high price of the Maxeon series can be difficult to justify when some other manufacturers are offering similar performance and quality at a slightly lower price. That being said, there is no other manufacturer that can match the new 40-year SunPower product and performance warranty.

The Performance series panels have also been very successful in the commercial solar sector, being very cost-effective and backed by one of the best warranties available. With the improving financial outlook and the next generation Maxeon 5 and Maxeon 6 series panels now available, it looks like SunPower may continue to be an industry leader for some time to come.

Solar Options Zimbabwe only works with and installs quality equipment. We use the best and most reputable brands, from solar inverters to panels and batteries. We know good equipment means quality and guarantee; so we use the best so as to create customers satisfaction.

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