Solar Manufacturers Increase Interest in Microinverters
The day of the solar micro-inverter may be at hand. In the past two weeks two solar companies in the U.S. SolarWorld and SunPower have both increased their interest in micro-inverters. SunPower bought SolarBridge outright while SolarWorld created a worldwide partnership with Enphase Energy.
Both moves show an increased interest in micro-inverters, which companies like Vivint Solar are already making micro-inverters standard in their residential installations. Other companies like Westinghouse Solar have integrated micro-inverters into their panels for a long time.
Micro-inverters, which are installed on each solar panel in an array allow each modules in a solar array to produce as much electricity as it is capable of. Whereas standard inverters tie in a number of solar panels together and can limit a solar array’s production to the ability of the weakest solar panel in an array, whether because the panel is broken or shaded or obscured from the light.
In large arrays designed for optimal conditions this isn’t much of a problem since there aren’t trees or other structures nearby to hinder production. But on a roof in a neighborhood with older trees and on a smaller array like on a rooftop, one panel unable to achieve maximum performance can have a greater impact on the whole system.
Micro-inverters can also help solar maintenance by identifying which, if any modules, in an array aren’t performing properly, greatly speeding the process of fixing the array.
Micro-inverters can also be installed when a PV module is produced, creating what’s called an AC solar panel, which SunPower will do with SolarBridge. “SunPower will utilize this technology, which converts direct current (DC) generated by a single solar photovoltaic panel into alternating current (AC), to develop next generation micro-inverters for use with SunPower's high efficiency solar panels,” the company said.
"SunPower's acquisition of SolarBridge and its high performance micro-inverter technology will allow us to develop a differentiated product specifically optimized for our high efficiency solar panels," said Tom Werner, SunPower president. "This is the beginning of integrating electronics into our world-class solar panel technology. In this case, the combined result will provide our residential customers with an elegant, reliable and complete solution that fits their home specifications, including system design flexibility, ease of installation and maintenance and improved overall aesthetics."
SolarWorld’s partnership with Enphase, the largest micro-inverter manufacturer, will help both companies access more markets. Under that partnership SolarWorld has chosen Enphase as its micro-inverter its custom systems in the U.S. “
The global partnership between SolarWorld and Enphase…is more than a supply agreement,” said Mukesh Dulani, U.S. president of SolarWorld. “It is a true collaboration between industry leaders that will expand global solar markets and spur development of new solar technologies.”
“Enphase has worked closely with SolarWorld for several years, and the companies have built a strong, growing business together in collaboration with SolarWorld’s extensive U.S. channels,” said Jeff Loebbaka, Enphase’s senior vice president of global sales, marketing and support. “This new agreement promises to open new regional market and product opportunities around the world for both companies.”
Like solar panels, micro-inverters have also been in a race to reduce costs. Their costs have come down over the past few years but can still cost more than a centralized inverter for an array. However the benefits of installing them for smaller systems can outweigh the costs. Whether or not more companies will adopt the technology in the near future remains to be seen.