Solar Innovation, Investment Shifting to Installation (Away from Solar Panels)

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Zachary Shahan
Cleantechnica
January 26th, 2012

The focus of solar innovation and investment is shifting from panels to installation, according to a new Lux Research report, “Swimming Downstream: Evaluating Up-and-Coming Solar Installers and Developers.”

“A flurry of M&A activity and an influx of venture capital dollars to solar service providers have led to innovation concentrated on creating new, lean business models in an extremely fragmented downstream landscape,” a news release today noted.

“Downstream start-ups raised over $1 billion, with SolarCity, SunRun, Recurrent Energy, SunEdison and Solar Power Partners leading the way,” said Matthew Feinstein, Lux Research Analyst and lead author of the report. “Solyndra raised a billion all on its own, but these downstream start-ups will achieve what Solyndra could not – success,” added Feinstein.

You’ve probably noticed this gradual shift, if you’re a regular CleanTechnica reader, as we’ve been writing more and more about solar leasing and solar installation innovations.

According to Lux Research, the “leading players in the downstream market” today are as follows:

SolarCity dominates among residential installers. In the crowded residential installer/developer market, SolarCity is a standout performer – but can ill afford to be complacent as it expands in the northeast U.S. Many companies are partnering with SunRun, adding muscle to SolarCity’s biggest competitor. The Alteris-Real Goods Solar merger in December has added a stronger player to the market.

Commercial and utility-scale solar have few up-and-coming players. Tioga Energy and Enfinity lead the group of new large-scale developers. The acquisitions of Recurrent Energy, SunEdison, and Solar Power Partners led to concentration of large-scale development in the hands of larger companies or vertically-integrated suppliers First Solar and SunPower.

New entrants keep popping up on the back of venture dollars. A burst of entrepreneurial activity, driven by venture capital, is ensuring a steady stream of high-potential startups. In 2011, six solar installers were among Inc. Magazine’s top 50 fastest growing companies in the U.S., including Greenspring Energy, re2g, SunDurance Energy, OnForce Solar, and FLS Energy.

These innovators were identified as “the high-potential innovators” in the field, as opposed to “me-too” companies.

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