I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never had a flight canceled on me. Sure, I’ve had delays, but even in wind and snowy weather my ride has always left eventually.
But I’ve heard Chicago is notorious for changing flights. That’s probably because it’s a major airline hub and affected delays across the country. It also has enough snow and windy weather of its own, which is most likely why my flight out from Cleveland was canceled – the one that was to take me to SolarBridge Technologies’ last ACPV Revolution Roadshow.
SolarBridge Technologies has been running its roadshow since kicking it off in Austin, Texas, last November. The company launched the tour to education installers on working with AC solar modules. Along with partners including Ontility, Talesun, 1SolTech, BenQ Solar, Mage Solar, Eoplly and Alamden, SolarBridge Technologies’ tour has made it to 15 cities across the country – even rescheduling New York and New Jersey after hurricane Sandy.
And the last stop was Chicago. SolarBridge Technologies had been kind enough to invite me, and I was determined to make it. I called up my airline and, 40 minutes later, I was scheduled for a direct flight that afternoon. Once I landed on the frighteningly snowy runway, and experienced the horrible visibility on the shuttle to the Hilton, I understood why the airlines had not allowed me to come earlier. Once we pulled in, I saw the snow-covered event truck and knew I had made it at last. It looked like the show’s team had, too.
Once I entered the meeting room, I saw – in spite of the weather – local installers had made it there as well. The show team said it wasn’t the turnout they expected, due to the snow, but the day went on. I think it made for an intimate setting for discussion and providing individual attention during demos.
The 4-hour day kicked off with an ACPV overview presentation from Craig Lawrence, VP of marketing at SolarBridge Technologies. He explained that microinverters have actually been around since the 70s and now account for more than 30% of all residential and small commercial (<100kW) U.S. solar installations. Lawrence said installers are choosing microinverters because they allow more sites to qualify for solar, provide a simpler design with no string constraints, reduce installation costs, increase safety and reliability and offer longer warranties. One installer at the event also noted the microinverters’ scalability.
“You can start with a smaller system and see how you like having solar,” he said. “Then you have the flexibility to add on, if you want.”
Furthermore, Lawrence explained how AC solar modules can offer even more benefits. With these products, the microinverter is actually installed and tested at the solar module manufacturer’s facilities. AC/DC cabling and equipment grounding is integrated into the product, which is UL certified to 1703 and 1741 standards as a complete solution. The solar module and microinverter are sold, warrantied (25-30 years) and serviced as a single product by the module manufacturer.
“This changes everything,” said one excited student installer just about to graduate from school. “It eliminates all the DC calculations!”
Not only that, but the solution yields more energy (validated by NREL). And SolarBridge Technologies goes a step further and offers solar inverter monitoring to module manufacturers. The company calls this a TrueAC module. It includes a power manager device with power portal software for 24/7 web-based access to system performance.
Also, installers have one point of contact for customer support and lower installation cost (no separate equipment grounding and or AC cables). Eddie Haynes, senior solar consultant at Ontility, stressed this point during the second part of the program in his presentation on how to install AC modules in five steps.
“If I can get my guys off the roof in half the time,” he said, “I’m saving money.”
Installation steps include:
1. Prepping the AC module for roof mounting
2. Installing the AC branch circuit and transition cable
3. Mounting and connecting the AC modules
4. Installing the power manager
5. Commissioning the system
After the explanation, attendees were eager to try out what they learned. Teams took turns installing eight AC solar modules while timed. The team with the fastest time (5 minutes) won $50 Home Depot gift cards. Not bad, but Haynes said out of the whole tour the team with the fastest time was 3 minutes at the stop in New Mexico.
“They were a group who were used to installing together,” he explained. “The average is about 7 minutes.”
Lawrence said more than 500 installers attended throughout the entire tour, each leaving with 4 CE credits of NABCEP certification.
John H. Dee has made it to every one of them (except, unfortunately, Hawaii ) as the official driver of the snowy truck outside. The truck carries equipment for the program, including the wooden mock-roof that Dee also built. He said he’s gotten everything to all 15 events on time.
But Dee has much more than a commercial driver’s licence. As a solar trainer/designer with Ontility, he’s got 30-some years in the electrical industry under his belt. So I take him seriously when he said he believes in the ACPV product.
“It’s great for the residential and small commercial markets,” he said. “It’s much easier for electricians when they don’t have to perform DC calculations, and it’s great solution for shading issues.”
When I asked him which stop on the roadshow was his favorite, he replied all of them.
“They’ve all been successful events,” he said. “I’d really like to thank the SolarBridge team and all our partners for putting this tour together, as well as all the installers for coming.”
More From Craig Lawrence and SolarBridge Technologies:
4 Questions: Are Inverters Getting More Reliable?
Solar Speaks: What Can Solar Leasing Gain From ACPV?
Don’t Be Fooled By AC Solar Module Pretenders