Solar Energy News: Trump Takes on Solar in First Debate, SolarCity Accused of Copying SunPower’s Technology

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Solar found itself in the spotlight once again this past week, this time as the result of a mention during the first U.S. presidential debate. The Clinton-Trump clash on clean energy, SunPower’s accusation that SolarCity stole its technology and a new fully integrated off-grid solar array are the eye-catching headlines we’re discussing from this week’s Solar Energy News report.

Trump Attacks Solar Industry in First Debate, Clinton Committed to Clean Energy

The first presidential debate of the election season was an eventful one that kept fact checkers busy sorting through the bombardment of claims and attacks by real estate entrepreneur Donald Trump. One point that did not require fact checking: each candidate’s opinion on solar energy, which was a brief focus topic of the debate.

Clinton, a strong supporter of renewables, cited the solar industry as a part of her jobs plan, leading Trump to come down hard on solar, characterizing it as a failed industry that has taken cash out of the federal government’s pocket. Trump’s criticism appeared to reference late solar giant Solyndra, which went bankrupt in 2008. Media reaction to Trump’s solar critiques has been strong as it revealed the Republican candidate has spent little time reviewing the hockey stick growth of the solar industry in the past five years. Instead, Trump chose to cite a failed company from almost a decade ago as a way to invoke voter skepticism about government spending on renewables.

SolarCity Accused of Copying SunPower’s Technology

Tensions heated up between two of the biggest companies in solar this week after SunPower accused SolarCity of stealing its technology. SolarCity, an installer behemoth, and SunPower, a leading manufacturer, have entered a dispute over a low-cost solar shingle technology heralded by SunPower. At the center of the dispute: Cogenra, a panel manufacturing company that was nearly acquired by SolarCity and eventually acquired by SunPower. Representatives from Cogenra (and thus SunPower) are claiming that during the due diligence period of SolarCity’s proposed acquisition, the San Mateo installer giant tracked and copied Cogenra’s shingle technology, which is now owned by SunPower.

Though this lawsuit is not expected to generate a major cash settlement for SunPower, it comes at a bad time for SolarCity who is in the midst of a high stakes merger with Tesla Motors. Falling stock prices and a decline in bookings already made SolarCity a risk-heavy acquisition candidate. This latest litigation from SunPower will only create further concern from Tesla’s board.

Austin, Texas Receives Federal Solar Energy Reward

Austin is already widely considered a national leader in solar, so it was no surprise this week that Austin was awarded the SolarSmart gold designation from the U.S. Department of Energy. The federal award is meant to recognize outstanding pioneers of renewable energy, and the city of Austin certainly deserves credit for leading the way for the nation (and perhaps more importantly the state of Texas).

The solar success for Austin starts with its lead utility, Austin Energy, which may be the most renewable-friendly utility in the United States. With a long list of clean energy incentives ranging from electric vehicles to residential solar rebates, Austin is beyond ideal for installing solar panels. “As a community, we have put an emphasis on conservation and sustainable energy programs to ensure that we continue working toward achieving our emission reduction goals, said Jackie Sargent, general manager at Austin Energy. For anyone wondering where the U.S. solar industry should expect the cost of solar to hit record lows, look to Austin, Texas.

SunCulture Launches SolPad With Integrated Storage

Homeowners are increasingly considering incorporating batteries into their solar panel systems, and as a result, integrated solar storage solutions are becoming a focus for innovative solar manufacturers. That reality was clear this week when SunCulture Solar unveiled its SolPad product – a small-scale solar array that is fully integrated with battery backup and inverters.

One of the key perks of the SolPad is its in-depth performance monitoring software SolControl, which offers highly specific insights to its users. SolControl can go so far as to tell homeowners which of their appliances are being powered by their SolPads at any given time. SolPad can serve as a grid-connected or off-grid array, making it a strong candidate for areas of the developing world where off-grid energy solutions are desperately needed. SolPad is currently finalizing its manufacturing partners and expects to have its product on the market by the second half of 2017.

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