Westinghouse Solar rolls out commercial systems

LOS ANGELES Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:44pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Solar panel maker Westinghouse Solar Inc is banking on a new flat roof system to light a fire under its commercial systems business.

The company, which recently changed its name to Westinghouse from Akeena Solar, will announce the release of a new commercial product on Tuesday aimed at large flat roofs such as those of big box retailers.

Currently, most of its panels are sold to residential customers, but Westinghouse wants to capture a piece of the rapidly growing commercial market, particularly in Eastern U.S. states such as New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania, which have generous incentives for businesses who want to go solar.

"This is probably the most cost effective flat roof system that you can put in," Chief Executive Barry Cinnamon said in an interview. "Having a really good commercial product that's going to address the 42 percent of the market in the U.S. that's commercial rooftops is a very good thing for us."

The company is less than a year into a deal to manufacture, market and install solar panels under the Westinghouse name in a bid to increase brand recognition and sales.

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

As Akeena, the company pushed to sell panels at a premium price and build brand loyalty. But the larger trend in the solar industry is toward producing the lowest-cost panels.

Westinghouse is trying to get to $10 million in sales per quarter so it can be cash flow break-even, Cinnamon said. He expects to achieve that goal by the middle of this year.

"Our goal is to build our top line," Cinnamon said. "And there is just no doubt at all ... that building that top line depends on having attractively priced products."

Westinghouse's system parts cost just over $2 per watt, Cinnamon said, on par with the lowest-cost panels on the market. Installation labor, however, is about 5 cents a watt for the company's system because the wiring and racking are built in to the product. That compares with installation costs of about 15 cents a watt for rival systems, Cinnamon said.

Westinghouse buys solar cells for its panels, which are assembled in China. Cell prices are coming down quickly after falling slowly in the first quarter, he said, adding he expects them to drop "a good 10 percent or so" in the second quarter.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Andre Grenon)

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