More and more panel manufacturers are joining up with MLPE manufacturers to develop smart modules. SPW reached out to professionals in the solar industry for their thoughts on this increasingly popular trend.
A smart module, the common name for combining a microinverter or power optimizer and a solar panel into one product, has many capabilities that a traditional module can’t match. These include energy harvesting, mis-match handling, safety improvements, decreased operations and maintenance, and enhanced predictability and bankability, according to James Bickford of Tigo Energy.
“Solar is a dollar per kWh asset, and going ‘smart’ is not only free, it dramatically improves the ROI of a project,” he says. “Getting a system or fleet of systems onto the PV 2.0 platform enables the system owner to tap into an even wider array of benefits.”
Bickford also says the largest challenge will be developing a standard API (application programming interface) that allows multiple devices from multiple vendors to “transparently interoperate.”
“The right partnership with an MLPE provider can offer a module manufacturer expanded profit margins, better brand visibility [and] access to leading installers who want to be able to offer innovative technologies,” says Craig Lawrence of SolarBridge.
“Although add-on units are just as simple to install, smart modules also offer installers an opportunity to further reduce the part count at a project site,” says Michael Rogerson, North American marketing manager for SolarEdge.
Essentially, Smart Modules are shifting the integration of technology into the PV manufacturing process, resulting in lower labor costs for installing inverter components.
With that, however, installers and PV manufacturers may run into issues with inventory management because they would now need a smart module and regular module for different applications, says Michael Ludgate, VP of business development at APS America.
Lawrence of SolarBridge addresses another concern regarding the emerging smart module market, one that installers and consumers need to be well aware of: Companies creating “smart” modules that “really aren’t that smart.”
“As MLPEs continue their growth, it will be tempting for power electronics companies to offer an “integrated” product,” he says.
After all, integration is more than just a matter of combining two products behind or on a module.
“The best product integrations are the result of hard work, joint testing of the product in the lab and in the field and qualification of the combined product under UL standards,” Lawrence says. “Only then will you get an integrated product that is safe, reliable and of course, smart.”
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