England, United Kingdom — The era of the “smart” solar panel is here. As more companies develop new power optimization and data tracking technologies for solar systems, the market has exploded.
A new report from IMS Research projects that the market for microinverters and DC-DC power optimizers will reach about $1.5 billion by 2015. That’s a stunning increase considering the technologies didn’t even exist on a mass scale three years ago.
A Microinverter is a device installed on the back of each solar module that converts DC electricity to grid-friendly AC electricity. Microinverter companies say that by reducing the need for a central inverter and increasing data granularity, the technology speeds up the return on investment for a solar system. The leading company in the space is Enphase, which has sold hundreds of thousands of units since its launch in 2008.
A DC-DC power optimizer (aka maximum power point tracking technology), is a piece of hardware that boosts panel voltage to meet the optimum voltage levels for the operation of the inverter. Companies in the space say that it increases efficiency and performance of the system and allows an installer to place far more panels on a wire. Companies like eIQ, Solar Edge and National Semiconductor have lead the market early on.
There is much debate in the industry over which technology is better. Clearly, both microinverters and MPPT devices are taking off quickly. IMS projects that more than 16 million units will be shipped in the next five years.
It may be a while before these technologies dominate the market, however. Even at present growth rates through 2015, IMS says that they will only be used in 10% of global solar installations.
Below, eIQ’s Oliver Jannsen talks about his view on the technological advantages of a DC-DC device over a microinverter.