In the quest to reach grid parity – generally defined as getting the cost of PV below $1/Watt – the focus has largely been on increasing cell and module efficiency, while reducing manufacturing costs. Another important aspect, however, is the cost of installation and maintenance, and the efficiency of the overall PV installation. A sharpened focus on the so-called “balance-of-systems”, which includes wiring, switches, support racks, inverters and even the land, could result in significant cost savings.
In this issue of Photovoltaics World, Matt Denninger of Advance Energy Industries, describes how PV system operation and maintenance is often an overlooked factor by system designers (Read the Article). This isn’t rocket science: Issues such as unsealed enclosures and conduits, loose connections, and even damage caused by insects, reptiles and rodents can all detract from the performance of the PV system. It’s sobering to think about all the advanced technology being brought to bear on PV manufacturing, only for it to be derailed in the field by something as mundane as mouse droppings! The solution could be as simple as improved data collection and benchmarking.
This theme is continued in a second feature that delves into issues related specifically to inverters, including airflow/cooling, environmental protection, operations and maintenance concerns, and EMI shielding. Author Steven Leidig of Crenlo notes that the sun could be shining at optimum levels, but if the inverter is not converting that power to its full potential, the cost of that lost efficiency will be passed on to the end user (Read the Article).
While large, utility-level PV system installations are exciting in that they could lead to high growth for the PV industry, installations in rural areas are equally important. Srinivasamohan Narayanan of Hanwha SolarOne notes that the breakthrough of residential solar and mini-grid systems in the developing world may prove a more transformative event for the future of solar PV (Read the Article). Solar manufacturers should be prepared for surges in stand-alone system demand, independent of existing grid-tied demand, as the push for clean electric power increases in the developing world, he writes.