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The solar sector according to Maxeon: An interview with Mark Babcock, Chief Revenue Officer, Maxeon Solar Technologies

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As an international manufacturer and retailer of leading solar modules in over 100 countries worldwide, Maxeon Solar Technologies was an important participant at the Intersolar Conference in October 2021. REM talked to the company’s Chief Revenue Officer, Mark Babcock, to obtain an overview of the current landscape in the solar industry, in addition to the company’s priorities for 2022 onwards, the partnership with Enphase, the roll-out of Maxeon’s Air solar panels across Europe and a number of other interesting matters.
The solar sector according to Maxeon: An interview with Mark Babcock, Chief Revenue Officer, Maxeon Solar Technologies
Courtesy of Maxeon Solar Technologies

Can you tell me more about yourself and your former parent company?

I’ve been in the solar business for many years, previously in senior roles at companies such as SunEdison and SunPower, but it’s been very exciting to come to Maxeon Solar Technologies at such an important stage in its life as an independent company. I joined the team at the end of 2020 as the company’s Chief Revenue Officer, where I’m responsible for the company’s expansion strategy and international growth and our partnerships with installation companies, distributors, and customers globally. I’m also accountable for identifying new revenue opportunities and pioneering new markets for the company.

Last year Maxeon completed its spin-off from SunPower Corporation, leaving our parent company to focus on North American residential and commercial solar and storage sales, while the team at Maxeon continue to design, manufacture, and sell the premium solar panels that we have become known for around the world. We have an overall purpose of Powering Positive Change, meaning we want to continue to push the boundaries of innovation in the solar industry so that smarter panels are designed at a quicker rate, helping the world to decarbonize its energy supply and manage its changing climate.

Can you tell me about Maxeon Air solar panels? Are these panels thin-film PV and if so what is the efficiency like?

The Maxeon Air solar panel is a truly exciting product for us and represents a great leap forward in innovation for the solar industry as a whole

The panels we have designed are as thin as an average pencil, only 7mm, and as their resulting installed weight is only around 6 kg/m2, they weigh around half as much as conventional solar panels. This incredible lightness is achieved through no metal frame or heavy glass being used to create the final product. Additionally, the panels have an adhesive mounting system and as a result, are installed using a ‘peel-and-stick' approach with no racking necessary. The innovation enables the installation of solar panels on low load commercial rooftops that were not initially designed to support the weight of traditional panels. Engineered to the highest safety standards and certified for fire resistance, Maxeon Air solar panels are designed to resist the stresses imposed by installation and long-term weather exposure.

Maxeon Air solar panels are not thin film products. They achieve their high performance because they integrate Maxeon IBC (Interdigitated Back Contact*) solar cells, which incorporate a solid metal foundation and stress relieved cell interconnects, thereby protecting against corrosion and enabling fault tolerant circuits that allow energy flow even with cracked cells. Maxeon IBC solar cells are the most efficient on the market. The resultant Maxeon Air solar panel, with an efficiency of 20.9 percent combined with a low power temperature coefficient, shade tolerance and wide spectral response, delivers maximum energy yield from limited rooftop area.

Maxeon Air is based on monocrystalline Maxeon Gen III solar cells. In the future, Maxeon Air will integrate Maxeon Gen VII solar cells.

In Europe alone, we think this new panel can open up around 4 GW of potential solar capacity.

What’s your assessment of the current solar sector globally?

We believe the solar industry is currently in a critical race on price and quality –

value for money, efficiency and sustainability standards are all key components of the industry’s landscape. Importantly, the consumer’s relationship with energy is about to be transformed with the market becoming decentralised and democratic – solar will play a key role as an enabler of this transition.

What are your main objectives over the next five years or so?

At Maxeon Solar Technologies, we want to raise the bar for the entire solar industry through innovation and industry partnership and development, the main example of this being our Maxeon line solar panels, which are the world’s first solar panels to be Cradle to Cradle Certified® and have voluntarily achieved this certification since 2014. Our Maxeon panels are also the only panels in the industry carrying the Declare Label for materials transparency. Declare labels disclose all materials used in production, as well as the assembly location, life expectancy, and recyclability. Generally, we’re focussed on three key pillars: Engineering better solar for life,  providing high quality products that give consumers and governments to power to make the most of solar; Engineering better solar for tomorrow, always innovating and pushing boundaries; and engineering better solar for the planet and our society, we aim to play a key role in the circular economy. 

Over the coming years, Maxeon will be focused on driving growth through innovation and high-quality products for our stakeholders, partners, and consumers.We will carry our “Beyond the panel” strategy which includes solar panels and other solar and storage products, software, and services. Ideally, we will create a full Maxeon-based ecosystem. We will also be driving and leading industry collaboration and partnerships to raise the profile of the solar sector more broadly, and its critical role in a more sustainable future. We hope this will inspire, support, and foster new innovation and technology for better outcomes for all.

Where do you see the main opportunities in residential, commercial and utility-scale PV?

For residential, beside continuing our tradition of panel innovation as we’ve been manufacturing the solar industry’s highest-efficiency commercially available solar panels for over 15 years – a legacy which is solidly intact today with Maxeon 5 and 6, and we expect that Maxeon 7 will extend our module performance lead; we are also laying the foundation for our “Beyond the panel” strategy to reach growing demand for top-quality streamlined solutions which includes solar, storage, EV charging, software, services… Our trusted channel, made of more than 1,200 channel partners globally, sits at the foundation of our Beyond the Panel strategy, as they put us in a unique position to effectively communicate the value of new technologies like microinverters and storage. With the introduction of our AC Solutions, combining industry-leading solar panel technology with the world’s most advanced microinverter technology from Enphase, we made our first step into the “Beyond the panel” strategy. But the AC Module is just a first step which paves the way for a more dynamic business model beyond the roof, offering smart energy solutions to global distributed generation markets. Storage will be one of our next key areas of focus.

For commercial PV we see great opportunities across the globe since commercial applications are such a big part of the market mix in all regions. In the EU we are initially rolling out Maxeon Air solar panels. In this region and others, there is a great need to reduce the weight of solar systems to ensure they are compatible with existing building structures. However, the EU’s ambitious 2030 climate plan means it is especially important that as much available rooftop space as possible is utilised smartly to deploy solar. We will also continue to expand our presence in the Latin American and Asia Pacific regions where both our IBC and Performance-Series products are highly appreciated.

In the Utility Scale segment, our approach is to pursue markets where we have a unique value proposition. As a US publicly listed company, with global operations, a trusted reputation for our business practices, and a deep commitment to ESG, we’re an especially attractive partner to many developers across the globe. This led to our announcement of 1.8 gigawatts of production expansion for the US market, where our corporate culture and experience are especially important. In the near-term, our early success in winning Primergy’s 1GW Gemini power plant in Nevada has put us in a strong position to selectively fill out our remaining 2022 available capacity and focus primarily on booking 2023 and beyond.

Tell me about your partnership with Enphase?

Our partnership with Enphase has led to some great products that are better able to meet the needs of our end-consumers, including our AC solutions, in specific Maxeon 5 AC and Performance 3 AC, with future generations expected imminently. The combination of home solar’s most powerful panel with the world’s most advanced inverter technology has created a highly reliable solar system which is able to generate more energy in real-world conditions. The partnership harnesses the strengths of both companies to offer a high quality, easy-to-use and high-volume mainstream AC module solution. We are proud to be able to deliver smart home energy solutions and an outstanding customer experience to homeowners in key international markets. We will continue to work collaboratively with Enphase to make the most of their specialist knowledge around microinverters, ensuring we are able to design and manufacture progressively more advanced solar systems.

What is the affordability of solar like these days and how can customers meet the cost?

Solar is more affordable than ever before and competes with all other energy sources in most markets without requiring subsidies. The performance of Maxeon’s products alone create a strong financial case for going solar, and making it easier to finance.

What other issues are currently affecting the sector and how can they be overcome?

Currently, there are two key technical innovation areas for the solar industry where our efforts need to be concentrated. Firstly, there is a need to increase the efficiency of PV cells and secondly within the modules themselves which together will enhance the feasibility of PV system installations and their adaptability. Any innovation in these two key areas will have a direct and positive impact on the cost of panels and the adaptability of installation-types, meaning more solar can be deployed at a quicker rate. Beyond those technical challenges, we as an industry need to step up our game in terms of ESG issues.

Where do you see the global solar sector being in the next 5-10 years?

Maxeon would like to see greater innovation and collaboration with partners and government in the future. We will look to lead the way on innovation and technological advancement across the global solar industry. We hope this collaboration and innovation will provide further advancement in battery and storage solutions for the entire solar industry. Additionally, we would like to see a surge in customer awareness and understanding of the benefits of the solar industry. We look to play a key role in this transition.

For additional information:

Maxeon Solar Technologies

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