Solar News
How will solar benefit from new processing technology?
June 28th, 2011

A strange thing has begun to occur the solar industry this year.

Almost everyone you talk to says they are really a smart grid company.

Sunverge recently announced a residential solar package that includes grid software and a battery pack that it says will cost less and pay off quicker than a traditional solar system. Sanyo, now part of thePanasonic empire, is studying battery/solar/home management systems too.

Meanwhile, a slew of startups—HIQ, Array Converter, SolarBridge Technologies, Tigo Energy–have emerged with chips and other components for squeezing more watts out of residential and commercial systems on a daily basis. Most of the major solar vendors have kicked off experimental programs to integrate some of these products into their offering.

Think of this as a way to let solar panels become masters of their environment. Solar panels in a traditional array can only perform as well as the lowest performing panel. If shade falls on one panel and cuts power output by 50 percent, all of the panels have to drop to that level because of the way conventional inverters work. Microinverters and things like power maximizers effectively separate the panels from one another to allow the brighter ones to operate independently and thus produce more power. Tigo, for instance, says it can boost power output by 8 to 12 percent. In the end, solar systems, ideally, will pay for themselves much quicker.

Power production also fluctuates during the day and those fluctuations can create problems for managing the grid. If renewable production exceeds the ability of the grid to handle the incoming power, it has to be dumped. Here, again, electronics come to the rescue. Batteries can smooth out power delivery. Petra Solar is in the midst of planting 200,000 solar modules on utility poles in the state of New Jersey that also happen to contain sensors for monitoring the health of the grid. The solar power plant also doesn’t require real estate or new transmission lines. CEO Shihab Kuran says that if you put Petra’s SunWise panels on 10 percent of the 300 million utility poles in the U.S. you could generate 10 gigawatts.

The problems? Batteries aren’t cheap and few of the power maximizer companies can point to reams of field data to back up their claims. Some combinations will work and some will work really well: it will take time to figure out the best formula.

It is also unclear who will pay for it. Consumers will benefit from having batteries hooked up to their solar panels, but utilities and demand response providers may benefit even more. Some have already proposed giving consumers a discount on their solar systems if they agree to put a bank of batteries in their garage. Ten percent off: those are magic words to Americans.

Utilities would like to see entire cities or subdivisions adopt these ideas.

Is this the wave of the future?

[Source: ecomagination]

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