Over the past week we've had barely a mention of a new product that could be another revolution for the solar industry. The C7 Tracker, which was announced by SunPower (NAS: SPWRA) (NAS: SPWRB) , has been overshadowed by news out of Europe and the economic fallout that may occur. But this could be another step toward generating solar power at extremely competitive costs.
How it works
The reason the C7 Tracker is worth keeping an eye on is that it's a concentrator combined with traditional solar technology. Unlike concentrators with power towers, which bounce the sun's rays to heat oil and run a turbine, the C7 concentrates on a much smaller scale. It bounces the sun's rays onto a small strip of solar cells that very efficiently turn the rays into electricity. For a visual you can see a promotional video on YouTube below.
SunPower claims that the C7 Tracker will generate solar electricity with a 20% lower levelized cost of energy than "competing technologies." [Note: I have asked the company for data behind this claim but I have yet to hear back.]
If we assume that the 20% cost claim is true, then SunPower could take over the utility-scale solar business. First Solar (NAS: FSLR) has much higher balance of system costs and would need a vast improvement in efficiency to compete. Even if Chinese competitors like Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) , Yingli Green Energy (NYS: YGE) , and JA Solar (NAS: JASO) are able to leverage lower polysilicon prices to lower costs, a 20% reduction is a lot to ask for. And SunPower will be benefiting from the lower poly prices as well.
SunPower also has the knowhow and backing to leverage a cost advantage in utility-scale solar power. The company has a big utility power plant division that has built projects around the world and has the backing of Total (NYS: TOT) , which has given the company a $1 billion line of credit.
Foolish bottom line
It's too early to tell if the C7 Tracker will be a revolution that changes the cost structure of solar and how we look at utility-scale solar, but it shows that companies are out there innovating. When combined with new AC panels, I think SunPower is still making all the right moves in solar.
At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorTravis Hoiumowns shares of SunPower and First Solar. You can follow Travis on Twitter at@FlushDrawFool, check out hispersonal stock holdingsor follow his CAPS picks atTMFFlushDraw.The Motley Fool owns shares of First Solar.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Total and First Solar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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