Smart Modules to reign the Solar Dynasty – Is India on the Edge?

Smart Modules Solar Energy

Solar Energy is no more a technology of words-selling, in recent times it has driven the power and related technology market delivering power access to millions of alternative exigency. Though, hinder of shaded areas and slender rooftop spaces have back-footed many potential buyers to turn into the solar evolution. To answer all the glitches, smart modules-level power electronics has emerged as a big time application for solar panels. The applications and benefits of this technology is affluent today – as, in the past few years, a wide range of PV module makers have unveiled and integrated “smart” and AC modules. These incorporate electronics to maximize output, and in the case of AC modules additionally integrate a microinverter into the module.

Smart Module – New Dimensions for Solar

Smart solar modules are inherited by adopting module-level power electronics (MLPE), no matter embedded or attached to the module, which offers the module-level maximum power point tracking (MPPT), user-friendly monitoring and enhanced safety. The ultimate goal of the solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation is to achieve grid parity while providing an infinite of energy. Smart modules integrate high performance monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells with intelligent technologies such as the current-bypass technology of power optimizers. With this additional layer of power electronics in place, smart modules enable the design of systems in configurations not previously possible—multiple module tilts, various orientations, etc. — eliminating the negative effects of shading. Additionally, because the module and smart technologies are shipped as one unit, installers benefit from shorter installation times. The smart solar modules are adopting module-level power electronics, which are the microinverter and power optimizer currently available, to maximize the power output of a solar system. Today, approximately two out of every three residential systems in the United States integrates a MLPE solution – analysts witnesses global market will balloon 5 GW installed by 2017.

Benefits and Applications

The MLPE market comprises of micro inverter technologies as well as DC power optimizer technologies. These products enable PV systems to overcome performance challenges coming from module mismatch, caused by a number of common factors including variances in module tolerance, partial shading, soiling and/or uneven aging. Through maximum power point (MPP) tracking at the module level, MLPE products mitigate mismatch effects and allow each module to operate at their maximum power levels. By eliminating any electrical reason to decrease the size of a PV system, MLPE technologies help designers to install more modules on the rooftop.

Micro inverter technologies replicate the inverter completely at the module level, power optimizers only deploy a minimal amount of electronics on the rooftop to handle the MPP tracking and DC to DC conversion, leveraging a centrally located inverter at the end of the string.  The benefit of this approach is that installers can reduce the hardware on the rooftop improving reliability and slashing costs.

Power optimizers can also be used in a fixed-voltage mode where the inverter determines current draw based on a predefined voltage target. The optimizers will all lock in on the same current value and deliver the remainder of the power as voltage.  This advanced mode of operation means that string length is no longer determined by voltage but is now determined by power. The benefit is string lengths that are boosted by 60% in residential systems and by over 4-times in commercial systems.  An added benefit is that inverter manufacturers can design inverters to accept voltages at the optimal level for DC to AC conversion reducing the need for DC boosters and other internal components. These reduced parts lead to lower cost products. Fixed voltage mode is the secret sauce for how SolarEdge’s inverters and optimizers function.

Market and Future

Today many big players have inked their names in providing high-rel products; GTM Research finds that this share is set to increase. The company expects smart and AC module shipments to grow from 73 MW in 2014 to 1 GW in 2020, a roughly 14-fold increase. Due to declining costs, the company is predicting that revenues in the sector will rise a mere 9-fold, from $70 million in 2014 to $603 million in 2020.

GTM Research goes back to the start for estimating this technologies market potentials and growth rate. Flurried by premium products have commanded much higher prices, and GTM Research says that this is part of what needs to change for broader adoption. The company cites high product markups from vendors, but also distributors having difficulty selling the value proposition of extra features, as well as providing customer support.

With more of these fully embedded solutions on the market, the research company expects prices to witness a significant downfall. Moskowitz says that with lower prices a number of advantages, including simplifying labor, elimination of redundancy and lower overall costs will come to be more appreciated.

Reports also assert that the part of the growth of AC and smart modules will come from growing acceptance of module-level power electronics (MLPE). The company finds a total MLPE market of 1.3 GW in 2014, and is forecasting that the sector will see a 39% average annual growth rate through 2020.

However, GTM expects that smart and AC modules will grow a quantum rate in comparison to the overall MLPE market accumulating a 7% in total growth by 2020 from present scenario.

Lastly, till date the adoption has been thwarted by high product additional overhead prices touted by smart and AC module vendors and distributors that had difficulty selling the module-level power electronics (MLPE) value proposition and gaining customer instincts. Though report says that maturity in the market and new product rollouts will leverage these markups to fall causing cheap module integration for the adopters.

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