The Rise of AC Modules: I love talking about this one. Mainly because you get such a varied reaction from solar integrators on whether they love em or hate em. Let’s face it. Evolution is moving forward, not backward, and AC modules are an inevitable conclusion to the current state. Micro inverters are relatively new to the scene but their adoption is soaring and proof of concept is being established. Yes, we now have 25 year warranties on micro inverters. This allows them to reach similar life expectancies of the modules that they are being designed to “mate” with. And Yes, I’m assuming that these outrageously long warranties are actually legitimate. Time has NOT proven this concept yet so that assumption remains just that.
AC Modules are coming because they provide greater flexibility in design, efficiency in installation, and most importantly, safety. The market is currently in a transitional or bridge phase. Micro inverters are out and growing in popularity but they must be installed separately for each module. That can take some time when you have 40 modules to install. The real beauty is going to be when the micro-inverters are embedded into the actual module. That’s where we’re headed. Micro-inverter manufacturers are at a cross roads. They can either partner with a module manufacturer, or remain independent. We’re seeing companies go both ways. For example, SolarBridge out of Austin, TX is partnering with SunPower and Kyocera to offer integrated micro-inverters. Enphase and Siemens have chosen to remain independent. Unfortunately, those independents are going to need to pick a partner sooner than later. Let’s face it, if I’m an installer, I’m not going to want to install 40 module and 40 micro-inverter. I want to install 40 AC modules and call it a day. This will lead to a shakeout in inverter manufacturers also such as Fronius, SMA, and PowerOne. Solar integrators are used to buying string inverters from each of the big inverter manufacturers and won’t have that option with AC modules. We’ll pick a module and whoever that module manufacturer happened to partner with is going to get that business. While the large scale projects will utilize string inverters for at least the next five years, evolution will eventually make it there too. Most sting inverters carry a 10 year warranty and although unit costs are greater for micro-inverters, it won’t be hard to do the math and see what kind of savings are available for an inverter that will last 2 ½ time longer. It’s coming. Get busy living or get busy dying!