Signs of Maturity in the ‘Smart Solar Panel’ Sector

Much of the innovation taking place in solar PV revolves around Balance of System (BOS) components like wiring, racking and inverters. This sector, while not as sexy as panel manufacturing, offers most of the low-hanging fruit in efficiency gains and cost reductions.

The fastest growing BOS technologies are components like Maximum Power Point Trackers (MPPT) and microinverters. MPPT devices regulate panel voltage to allow a central inverter to run more efficiently. Microinverters attach to the racking behind each panel and convert DC electricity directly to AC, removing the need for a central inverter. Both technologies allow the granular monitoring of individual panels, making a solar system “smarter.”

A report released last month by IMS Research projects that these technologies will represent a $15 billion market by 2015. In an attempt to capture large portions of this market early on, companies have been setting up partnerships with established players in solar. Here are some of the recent announcements:

  • The leading microinverter company, Enhpase, just released a new product with a platform that allows manufacturers to integrate the device directly on the back of a panel. This makes the production of a so-called “AC module” at the factory possible. Panels with microinverters mounted directly on the back will be available sometime in the first half of next year. The module manufacturer Upsolar is the first company to provide an AC module with an Enhpase product.
  • The Israeli MPPT company SolarEdge secured $25 million in funding from a number of venture capital firms, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Opus Capital and Genesis Partners. Along with producing power optimizers, SolarEdge manufacturers its own central inverter, setting it apart from other companies in the space.
  • Suntech, a leading Chinese solar module manufacturer, has partnered with three power optimization companies. National Semiconductor, Tigo Energy and the start-up Azuray said today that they will integrate their devices on the back of Suntech modules. All three companies say their devices increase module power output by 20-50%.
  • Finally, eIQ Energy and the inverter company KACO New Energy, have entered into a partnership to bundle their respective technologies. KACO will package its blueplanet inverter with eIQ’s vBoost power optimizer for arrays in the 100-300 kw range.

Collaborations between power optimization companies and inverter and module manufacturers are becoming more common. Rather than try to sell products to individual developers, these partnerships are a great way for MPPT and microinverter start-ups to scale quickly. Keep your attention on this space – this is just the beginning. More large partnerships are surely coming.

Below are two videos from Enphase and eIQ that explain the basics of each system. Yes, they’re marketing videos. But they provide a nice illustration of how each works.

 

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I am a reporter with ClimateProgress.org, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for RenewableEnergyWorld.com, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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