Solar panel companies have long partnered with other component manufacturers to offer customers more inclusive systems. This is more prevalent with electronics — think AC panels or smart modules with embedded microinverters or optimizers. But some companies are finding success in bundling together even more aspects of the system, including mounting and batteries.
Vertically integrated dealer models are well-versed in these offerings. SunPower provides its vast installation network with its own high-performance modules along with company-branded inverters, mounting and storage systems. There’s no decision for installers to make; they just pick out the best-fit system and go. Until recently, this setup was fool-proof for SunPower. SunPower acquired microinverter manufacturer SolarBridge in 2014 to bring the product completely under the SunPower brand, but four years later sold its microinverter business to Enphase. Now, all SunPower systems come with co-developed microinverters with Enphase. Still, SunPower dealers have little wiggle room for customization, although they do now have access to the technology behind the most popular microinverter brand on the market.
Other solar panel companies aren’t outright calling themselves full-system dealers, but there are strategic partnerships coming together to make system buying easier on installers. With the solar panel being the largest, flashiest piece of the system puzzle, it makes sense that module manufacturers want to be seen as the central, connecting component of the system and hand-pick their supporting products.
Trina Solar’s large-scale TrinaPro offering
Trina Solar is morphing itself from just a product manufacturer into a service provider. The company announced in March 2018 a new utility-scale packaged system with its solar panels. After its strategic cooperation agreement and eventual acquisition of Spanish tracking and mounting manufacturer Nclave, Trina had the upper-hand for smart PV solutions in the utility-scale market. The company’s offering, TrinaPro, also includes Trina-branded Sungrow string and central inverters and a sophisticated cloud-based data algorithm to assist with O&M and general system efficiency. TrinaPro can also be deployed in the commercial market on roofs and in floating system setups.
“Trina has long been acknowledged as an industry-leading PV module provider. Now, we have made the decision to transition into becoming a smart energy solutions provider,” said Steven Zhu, Trina Solar’s North American president. “This is a business decision that we made for our long-term sustainability as a company, to expand our participation in the market and to provide additional value to our customers.”
Not only does the TrinaPro package provide better profit margins for Trina than just solar panels, it also gives extended benefits to customers by reducing eight main risks associated with solar development: design, procurement, purchasing, scheduling, integration, installation, commissioning and bankability. Zhu said Trina doesn’t want to replace the EPC on a project; instead the company wants to make the EPC’s job easier.
A choice of any Trina Solar panel is included in the TrinaPro package, and the company has said its bifacial modules bundled with trackers are a popular choice. While Trina went with Sungrow inverters (and Huawei inverters outside of the United States) for TrinaPro, Zhu said bringing the mounting systems in-house was a strategic manufacturing decision.
“Solar tracking is a sector that has seen aggressive growth over the last couple of years and Trina saw an opportunity to enter the space with this acquisition. Manufacturing has always been a core competency for us, and having the tracking production in-house enables us to reduce procurement and delivery risks for our customers,” Zhu said.
Trina’s position is to supply one solution — with one technical support and customer service team — to help clients reach higher ROIs. The company is still focusing R&D on better solar panels, but now it’s looking at the larger picture.
“TrinaPro provides the primary benefit of dealing with one supplier for the top three components of a utility-scale PV system: modules, trackers and inverters,” Zhu said. “Trina will ensure that the components are optimized to operate together seamlessly, and we can guarantee delivery and availability at the time of purchase.”
Solaria AC modules and recommended mounting systems
Around Solar Power International last year, Solaria announced a partnership with Quick Mount PV and Enphase for a unified residential solar system. Available through select distributors, Solaria PowerXT modules are bundled with Quick Mount’s QRail system and Enphase IQ 7+ microinverters. Solaria and Enphase had already partnered on an AC module, but the addition of Quick Mount PV’s click-in-place QRail system offers an even more simplified design. Solaria also confirmed to Solar Power World it will soon announce a similar system partnership with IronRidge rails and mounts.
“We’ve integrated the microinverter, and we’ve partnered with the racking solution provider, so they have a custom SKU,” said Suvi Sharma, Solaria president and CEO. “The distributor can carry all that and provide a kitted system to the installer. They don’t need to do any extra work besides installing it.”
Solaria modules work with most leading racking providers, but Sharma said the partnerships Solaria has built with Quick Mount PV and IronRidge allow for pre-engineered systems with perfect fits.
“It’s all about making it simple and easy to install for contractors,” Sharma said. “That’s how they can go get the next job and reduce their costs.”
Solaria isn’t interested in turning to a dealership model. Although the company views itself as the best panel manufacturer, it’s not an expert in racking or microinverters.
“The industry has matured a lot so that there is real specialization that has occurred,” Sharma said. “SunPower initially had their own microinverter, and they have now moved to Enphase, because they have the best microinverter. We see less vertical integration going forward. We want to provide the best solution to contractors and homeowners, and the best way to do that is to partner with other providers that are the best at what they do.”
Solaria is exploring options on a larger complete system with storage and EV charging. Solaria Power Home will use “best-in-class” components from partners in an integrated solar-plus-storage system. The company is currently working on pilot programs and hopes to have a full package available in the next few months.
“Our core business is making a high-performance, high-aesthetic solar panel, but we are working with a lot of partners to integrate a complete solution,” Sharma said. “We believe that customers are looking for integrated package solutions that are pre-engineered. When the contractors get something, they know everything works.”