Today in Cleantech

Some news items this morning from American high-efficiency solar panel leader SunPower give a good indication of how much things have shifted for the solar industry over the past two years. First, the good news — San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower reports that it has built a solar module that can achieve greater than 20 percent efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity, using its solar cells with efficiencies of 22.4 percent. The more power you can get per square inch of panel, so to speak, the cheaper the rest of your “balance of system” costs will be. Two years ago, efficiency ratings were about all you heard anyone talk about in the solar manufacturing field — that, and costs per watt. But that brings us to the bad news for SunPower today, as the company reports that falling solar markets in Germany (the world’s biggest buyer of solar panels) and Italy (which has seen a government incentive-fueled boom sputter amidst program cutbacks) will likely drive down prices by 20 percent or so over the coming year. SunPower got about one-third of its business last year in Italy, so it has to compete with everyone else — particularly low-price Chinese panel manufacturers — on price elsewhere. Efficiency is critical — but so is keeping down costs.

Panasonic to Invest $1B in Cleantech: Batteries, Energy Monitoring and More

Panasonic (s PC), the world’s largest plasma-TV maker, will invest $1 billion by 2012 into clean technologies as part of a plan to focus its core business on outfitting homes and commercial buildings with solar power and energy-saving products. The plan is the latest example of a corporate behemoth eyeing opportunity in clean technology. As part of the shift, the Japanese consumer electronics company will develop its own products as well as leverage technologies acquired through its ongoing acquisition of solar cell and battery maker Sanyo Electric, Panasonic President Fumio Ohtsubo yesterday told Bloomberg. “We want to change our fighting ring from our current categories to a different field…Our products in consumer electronics and our appliances will benefit from the new core business,” Ohtsubo told Bloomberg, citing strong competition from Korean electronics maker Samsung.

As part of Panasonic’s new focus, the company will develop an energy-monitoring system for homes, Ohtsubo told Bloomberg. The system will pull data from home appliances (and presumably other sources of power demand) and display energy usage on television sets. He said the company could “realize this kind of concept” within 2-3 years. Read More about Panasonic to Invest $1B in Cleantech: Batteries, Energy Monitoring and More