CORRECTED - Akeena, Westinghouse clinch deal on solar panels

Tue May 18, 2010 3:54pm EDT

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(Corrects to show that Westinghouse Electric Corp is controlled by CBS, not Toshiba, in the fourth paragraph)

* Akeena's panels to carry Westinghouse brand

* Financial terms of the agreement not disclosed

By Dana Ford

LOS ANGELES, May 17 (Reuters) - Akeena Solar Inc AKNS.O said on Monday it has signed a deal to manufacture, distribute, market and install its solar panels under the Westinghouse name, in an effort to boost brand recognition and sales.

Akeena, which designs and installs power systems, began selling its panels at Lowe's Cos Inc (LOW.N) retail stores in California late last year. But, like many of its peers in the sector, the company has struggled to build brand loyalty.

The deal with Westinghouse is meant to change that, Akeena's chief executive told Reuters.

Westinghouse Electric Corp, a familiar company name in the United States, is controlled by CBS Corp (CBS.N).

"We have the exclusive worldwide rights for home and business solar products," said Akeena's Chief Executive Barry Cinnamon about the company's solar panels, which will carry the Westinghouse brand name going forward.

He declined to comment on the deal's financial terms.

Akeena's push to sell panels at a premium price mirrors efforts of some other players in the solar space, like SunPower Corp SPWRA.O and Suntech Power Holding Co Ltd STP.N.

But the larger trend in the industry right now is toward producing the lowest-cost panel. Chinese manufacturers, in particular, have successfully underpriced many of their competitors.

Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. In the United States, solar accounts for less than 1 percent of the country's total energy mix.

Cinnamon forecast panel prices will fall between 10 and 20 cents per watt this year, but said he expects Akeena to be able to maintain a premium price through its Westinghouse partnership.

Los Gatos, California-based Akeena reported a decline in sales and a first-quarter loss last month that missed analysts' expectations. [nWNAB3906]

The company posted quarterly margins of 23 percent, a number that Cinnamon said he expects to "maintain or improve" in the coming quarters.

"We're putting all the pieces together that will make a very strong product as the solar industry moves from early adapters to mainstream consumers," he said.

Shares of Akeena, which have fallen about 30 percent since the start of the year, closed at 93 cents on Monday. (Reporting by Dana Ford; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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