Ballard Breaks into the Solar Inverter Market

Entering an already tight and competitive market, Ballard Power Systems, one of the most recognizable names in the fuel cell industry, has spread their expertise into the solar photovoltaic (PV) inverter market with the recent unveiling of a 75 kW power converter designed specifically for large solar PV applications.

PRODUCT NEWS Vancouver, British Columbia – April 15, 2004 [] Known as the Ecostar, Ballard said it’s the only 75 kW grid-tie utility interactive power inverter available to PV customers. Most inveters are available only in much lowe kW capacities, however there are a number of other large capacity options, just none at the specific 75 kW range. Ballard said the Ecostar power converter offers customers improved reliability and a reduced payback period for their product investment when compared to incumbent technologies. Market Opportunities Ballard’s expertise has traditionally been with Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells. While both fuel cells, and the hydrogen that typically run them have gained a lot of attention since President Bush outlined his support for them, many experts have also criticized the two as only feasible in a large scale after much more research is conducted. Solar photovoltaic power however, has been growing near 30 percent worldwide and offers another vibrant clean energy market for Ballard. State support, especially in places like California has helped spur a boom in solar installations on both private homes and businesses. Thanks to generous incentives from the state, many of these installations have been quite sizeable – just the type that could use a large inverter like Ballard’s new unit. “The photovoltaic market has grown an average of 25 percent per year since the 1980s, and the majority of that growth has come in grid-tie applications,” said Ross Witschonke, Ballard’s Vice President, Sales & Marketing. “Along with this rapid growth have come demands from the market for improved efficiency and greater reliability. We are confident Ballard’s Ecostar power converter is tailor-made to meet those needs, and that it will exceed our customers’ expectations.” The Inverter Ballard’s new inverter is comes from the company’s extensive experience developing inverters for automotive and microturbine applications, and is proving to be a flexible product design. Ballard expects to add a 30 kW inverter product for PV applications to its product offerings for installations in the second half of 2004. With peak transformer efficiency of 98.4 percent, system operating losses reduced to 25 Watts and continuous power output at full load, Ballard said their Ecostar power converter is one of the most efficient commercial inverters available in North America. Ballard offers a five-year extended warranty for parts and labor and is listed by the California Energy Commission. Ballard said the key benefits of the Ecostar power converter include: – Night-time isolation: the inverter automatically disconnects from the grid and isolates the power transformer when there is no power from the PV array; further, it automatically “wakes up” when the sun reappears, thus eliminating nighttime transformer losses; – Patented software algorithms: offers reliable grid-parallel operation, anti-islanding and over/under frequency and voltage protections; – Highly efficient maximum power-point tracking: operates independently of PV cell technologies and fill-factors for maximum installation flexibility and reduced operating costs; – Liquid cooling: increases system reliability and inverter life cycle. “Ballard Power Systems’ 75 kW Ecostar power converter fills a niche for us and it is working very well,” said William Lyons, Systems Engineering Manager, Spire Solar Chicago. “Ballard approached us as we were considering solutions to our PV system needs. We chose Ballard due to the superior technical aspects of their product – it has lower tare losses and is liquid-cooled, providing greater energy savings. The price was competitive, installation was easy, performance has been trouble-free and the customer service has been excellent.” Spire Solar Chicago, has been established in Chicago in collaboration with the City of Chicago, ComEd and BP Solar. Spire Solar Chicago is a vertically integrated photovoltaic manufacturing plant and installation business.
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