Despite rumors to the contrary, Panasonic is not exiting the solar market. In fact, with a change in strategy that makes the company more responsive to shifting market trends, they’re building on their 25-year legacy in the solar space by offering an ecosystem of residential energy solutions.
Earlier this year, confusion was created in the market when Panasonic opted to bring in original equipment manufacturing (OEM) partners to take over some production responsibilities, with reports mistakenly claiming that Panasonic was exiting the solar market entirely.
However, the move was actually a part of a decision to focus on building that ecosystem of residential energy products — including solar panels and battery storage — instead of focusing exclusively on manufacturing. This change in strategy, according to the Panasonic team, will allow them to bring the latest solar technology to installers and consumers more quickly at competitive prices, as well as sell other components of the whole-home renewable energy solution.
“This is just a change in strategy,” says Panasonic director of solar and storage solutions, Mukesh Sethi. “We’re not exiting anything.”
For Panasonic this customer-centric strategy allows them to be "future-focused,” offering integrated energy solutions that are all backed and warranted by one of America’s most trusted and longest standing brands. (This year Panasonic celebrated its 103rd anniversary.)
Using OEMs to grow the Panasonic solar offering
The change in strategy — switching from proprietary factories to partnering with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) — will have no impact on consumers or installer partners. The company will continue to sell and support their solar panels and battery storage systems, and, in the longer term, develop other energy management products.
Talking about the outsourced manufacturing practice, Sethi explained, “Many companies, including sellers of some of the most popular smartphones and tablets, are currently using OEMs to physically manufacture products, which are then sold under the name brand.”
This trend isn’t just common in the consumer electronics space. In fact, other solar companies have made similar manufacturing strategy changes which enabled them to sell company-branded modules made by the OEMs.
What’s behind the change?
As the pioneer in heterojunction technology (HJT), Panasonic has been a major player in solar power for over 25 years, and has been heavily involved in solar R&D since 1975 at the beginning of the green revolution. During this time, the company has made considerable progress in increasing the efficiency and output of their panels — and in expanding their manufacturing operations.
However, Panasonic technology wasn’t the only thing changing over the last quarter century in the industry. Major shifts in production practices and the introduction of new technologies which require fast changes and factory retooling have changed the focus for technology companies like Panasonic.
“Now, manufacturing solar panels has become a low-margin business category due to decreasing prices and changing technologies. This makes it challenging for manufacturers to keep up with the continuous investment in new machinery,” Sethi says. “Outsourcing the manufacturing allows us to focus on designing and selling the best products, which smartly integrate together. Now, each component is designed, developed and sold by Panasonic, but made by contract manufacturers following Panasonic quality standards.”
For consumers and installers, this seemingly complex process streamlines and improves their experience. Consumers, of course, want all of their technology solutions to work well together. By bringing together an ecosystem of residential energy solutions under a trusted brand that can reliably guarantee their systems for decades, Panasonic allows customers to achieve just that.
As with consumer electronics, users want products that integrate seamlessly. This new direction, Panasonic says, makes it possible to create that same cohesive experience in home solar panels and storage systems.
Building a ‘best-in-class’ energy ecosystem
One example of improvement this strategy is reaping is a change in their popular line of HIT panels, which historically used Panasonic-manufactured cells from smaller 125-mm/5-in. wafers for 96-cell panels in the same footprint as other brands’ 60-cell modules. In recent years however, new technologies and larger wafer adoption has gained traction across the industry.
This trend influenced the company’s decision to outsource manufacturing to OEMs, as they plan to move away from smaller cells. Panasonic has already started in that direction, with the introduction earlier this year of its EverVolt brand of modules, which while still using HJT, are made with larger half-cut cells on par with the rest of the industry.
“While there are changes happening behind the scenes,” Sethi says, “Everything about how installers and consumers experience Panasonic Solar is staying the same, including the 25-year warranty, commitment to product quality and high level of service people have come to expect from us."