SunPower embraces microinverters for the first time


Updated: Solar panel giant SunPower (s SPWRA) has decided to embrace microinverters, which are a new emerging form of solar inverter that are embedded on each panel and are used to convert direct current generated by solar panels into alternating current for the grid. Traditional inverters are a large central inverter that converts the current for a dozen panels together for a rooftop, and the idea is that per-panel microinverters are more efficient and can offer more transparency for the fluctuations of each panel.

SunPower has decided to work with Austin-based microinverter startup SolarBridge, and the companies are planning to sell the microinverter panel as the “SunPower E18 & E19 AC Solar Panel series.” The partnership is a big deal for SolarBridge, which just started selling its microinverters with any kind of volume at the beginning of 2011. Back then SolarBridge CEO, Ron Van Dell, told us that the company had decided to spend more time designing microinverters that can last as long as solar panels, which typically carry a 20-25 year warranty.

SolarBridge is backed by at least $46 million from Rho Ventures, Battery Ventures and Texas Emerging Technology Fund and has been using its funds to expand production and marketing. In January the company raised its most recent $19 million round.

The biggest microinverter player remains Enphase Energy, which plans to go public. The northern California company has shipped more than 750,000 microinverters as of the beginning of 2011, and it launched its initial product in mid 2008. While Enphase Energy has grown its revenues dramatically it still posts losses (here is our detailed look at the $100 million IPO filing).

Enphase, too, has strengthened the warranty of its microinverters to 25 years in order to promote its microinverters as a good match for solar panels. In fact, panels with its microinverters will show up in the first half of 2012, the company said. Update: Enphase hasn’t said which is working with solar companies like Hanwha SolarOne, Upsolar, and Westinghouse Solar (formerly Akeena Solar).

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