Listen Up: Let’s Talk Solar Chips and How They Can Reduce Costs, Improve Efficiency

Solar modules started out as fairly simple moisture-proof sandwiches of glass, silicon cells, glue and backsheets — with a junction box that contains a few diodes to bypass defective or shaded cells. No fancy electronics in the early days. Then power electronics circuitry crept into early inverters — to the point now where all inverters contain hundreds of electronics chips to provide various optimization, communications and safety functions. Now that many installations use microinverters or optimizers, every single solar panel has its own collection of electronics chips.

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Power electronics for solar modules are generally designed with 50-200 general purpose integrated circuits and related components. Like almost all other electronic products, microinverters and optimizers were all initially designed with discrete components — but then, as sales volumes increased, manufacturers started to include more specialized components. Think about the first PCs and all the components that were soldered onto internal circuit boards. Now most of the functionality of PCs (and cellphones, TVs and other mass produced electronics) are provided by a few customized chips made in very high volumes. The same miniaturization and cost reduction trend, from hundreds of discrete general purpose components to dozens of specialized power electronics chips, will occur with power electronics for solar applications.

As Intel, AMD, Broadcom, Nvidia and others have shown, providing specialized chipsets to electronics manufacturers is a good way to reduce costs and improve performance. It’s a geeky business, but one that has made our laptops and cellphones so ubiquitous. Solantro Semiconductor has staked its future on providing chipsets for solar power systems, as well as related energy storage and communications functions. Because they are optimized for miniaturized power electronics applications, Solantro’s solar chipsets will be cheaper, more efficient and more reliable than ordinary power electronics composed of hundreds of chips.

My guest this week is Antoine Paquin, CEO of Solantro Semiconductor. Please join me on this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World as Antoine explains how specialized chipsets for solar power applications will help make solar systems cheaper, smaller and more efficient.

Find more episodes of The Energy Show here.

About The Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don’t have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we’ll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices. 

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He’s been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock

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As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don't have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs -- very affordably. The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20 minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we'll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices.

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