This year, new consumer product features allow you to track your sleep, take a 3D deep sea dive in a shark cage and even toss digital confetti in birthday text messages. Likewise, new features of products are enhancing our lives in solar.
Below, you’ll see products that incorporate cutting-edge technologies using chip integration, diamond-like materials, digital processing, bifacial and overlapping cells, water-based electrolytes, decoupling torsion limiters, integrated and open source data—oh, and double hydroxide films.
Sounds fancy, right? But what do these technologies mean to you on the job every day?
Perhaps an easier approach is to focus on how these product features will increase your work efficiency and project performance. One product helps solar installers compare expected power output to actual yield, and it sends alerts for deviations. Another offers a safer storage option that won’t subject anyone to health hazards or fires. In this special section, you’ll find highly efficient, reliable and easy-to-install products that make your projects more profitable and save on labor time and cost. Picture an optimized system without needing to install devices on each panel, or using modules that eliminate shading loss worries.
These things are all possible. Consider these products as you plan for next year, and browse an even more extensive database in this year’s products section here.
Water-based ion makes batteries more environmentally-friendly
As seen in Aquion Energy‘s Aspen battery
Batteries can contain materials that can be health hazards if not handled properly. By using water-based electrolytes and common, relatively inexpensive materials, a unique battery chemistry from Aquion Energy offers a safer storage alternative to the industry.
Aquion’s Aspen batteries, which received an Intersolar Award, have an environmentally-friendly electrochemical design and are the only batteries to be Cradle to Cradle Certified—meaning they’ve achieved positive ratings in aspects such as material health and reutilization, water stewardship and social fairness. The batteries contain no heavy metals or toxic chemicals and are non-flammable and non-explosive, making them safe and sustainable. The water-based electrolytes still provide the batteries the ability to handle energy-intensive solar applications with long cycle life, deep cycling capability and robust performance in high ambient temperatures. These batteries also do not degrade from partial state of charge cycling.
Wind mitigation without motors adds to reliability
As seen in Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3
Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3 integrates a passive wind mitigation feature to alleviate high wind loads. Many other trackers use an active-stow approach, relying on sensors and motors to move the entire tracker field into a flat position to minimize wind forces. These active-stow trackers usually require access to an uninterrupted power source. DuraTrack HZ v3’s passive wind mitigation technology is entirely different.
Each v3 row has a built-in torsion limiter that decouples when exposed to high winds. After decoupling, the tracker row will naturally assume its position of least resistance to the wind, which changes from one weather event to the next. Usually this position is at or near the 52° range of motion limit, where redundant mechanical stops are located throughout the system to prevent over-rotation.
After the wind event, the torque-limiter will reengage. If the row is out of position with respect to the site, it will recalibrate to the correct position if the weather event or obstruction has ended. Array Technologies points out a few benefits of this technology: upfront cost savings, increased production and reliability. On that last point, the wind mitigation feature is purely mechanical, providing a self-sufficient power plant technology.
Analysis helps projects pass inspection the first time
As seen in Aurora Solar software
With soft costs comprising larger chunks of the solar price tag, it’s important all aspects of installation go smoothly to minimize added costs, like change orders. Key among the installation process is inspections and permitting. Aurora Solar has helped streamline those challenges with its Validation Report feature, which ensures project designs are National Electrical Code compliant and will pass inspection.
Aurora automatically runs hundreds of electrical tests, but the Validation Report is component-specific and considers the detailed electrical characteristics of modules, inverters, DC optimizers and balance of system components.
Aurora’s Validation Report tests more than NEC compliance, too. It automatically checks to ensure no modules are violating firecode setback rules. Salespeople will be delighted to find they don’t have to reference an extensive NEC guidebook. It’s all built into the software and is easily understandable.
What happens when something is wrong with a design? A solar installer is alerted with a pop-up box that lists the tests performed. Errors are highlighted, and the installer is directed to the problem component or part. This is beneficial for commercial installers who may have thousands of components in their design.
Shade analysis function triages arrays for optimized layout
As seen in Folsom Labs’ HelioScope
Obstruction shading is the biggest wild card for whether a solar array will make sense for a particular address. Folsom Labs has built a feature in its HelioScope design software that lets an installer quickly and easily understand the potential generation of a rooftop—and, ideally, set a threshold for how the array should be designed.
Folsom Labs says the most valuable use-case for the shade function is for sales teams to triage a roof while on an initial call with a homeowner. In two minutes, a salesperson can estimate the potential capacity of a roof, as well as diagnose and quantify shading issues. The data for the shade optimization comes from a variety of sources, including satellite imagery, LiDAR data and weather data files.
Historically, shade analysis was completed with SunEye readings taken from the roof, which measured the “dome” of the sky available to a solar array. While this solution provides valid results, it has a couple drawbacks: It requires someone to visit the project site and generally under-reports the benefits of module-level optimization. That is why a detailed 3D model gives a more nuanced understanding of the array’s shade losses and enables module-level control for the system designer.
Optimizing solar arrays on a module level has traditionally required installing microinverters or optimizers, but a new technology provides another solution. Maxim Integrated now offers a chip-based cell-string optimizer that simply comes embedded in the junction box of certain brands of solar modules (JinkoSolar, Trina Solar, Hanwha Q Cells, Suntech and ET Solar). The chip replaces the traditional panel diode so each module has three optimizers and therefore MPPTs to accommodate shade, string mismatch and soiling. This lets installers accommodate multiple orientations, shading and unsymmetrical designs with up to 20% difference in string length without installing more components. This allows rows of panels to be tightly placed together in commercial systems without any limitations while reducing installation and increasing communication and efficiency. The technology is available and compatible with Fronius SnapInverters, which also offer mounting flexibility and monitoring through Fronius Solar.web.
Diamond-like material increases inverter efficiency
As seen in GE‘s LV5+ Series Solar Inverter
Silicon carbide (SiC), a synthetically produced crystalline compound of silicon and carbon, was first discovered in an attempt to produce artificial diamonds, and it shares many properties with diamonds, including strength and resistance to high temperatures. These diamond-like features, combined with electrical conductivity, make the material the ideal substitute for traditional semiconductors, giving it the potential to transform the power conversion methods of inverters used today.
GE has already proven the technology in other markets such as healthcare and aviation. Now in solar, SiC in inverters can achieve up to twice the power density compared to silicon designs. This increases the amount of energy produced per year in a smaller footprint than today’s silicone-based inverters. The most powerful benefit of using the material in solar inverter applications is its increased power conversion efficiency. Two 1-MW GE LV5+ inverter demonstrator units have been installed in the United States, and the company plans to release full scale development of LV5+ solar solutions to the market in 2018.
Many tiny wires replace busbars to reduce electrical loss and prevent microcrack failures
As seen in LG NeON 2 modules
The industry has been revamping its busbar game, with many solar panel manufacturers increasing to four or five ribbons to connect solar cells to each other and allow for the flow of electrons. If the thought process is that more busbars allow for more paths for electrons to run down, then why not have as many busbars as possible?
LG adopted Cello technology for its NeON 2 modules, exchanging the thick busbar for multiple tiny wires. Cello (cell connection with electrically low loss, low stress and optical absorption enhancement) technology makes use of 12 circular-shaped wires that help scatter light, leading to better absorption and a reduction in electrical loss by spreading the current. When microcracks arise by natural degradation, the 12 tiny wires reduce downtime by blocking the crack with their tight layout. In the end, consumers are left with more reliable power packed into the same physical space as traditional solar panels.
Advanced metal coating offers stronger corrosion protection
As seen on Mounting Systems’ Sigma ground mounts
Available on Mounting Systems’ Sigma ground mounts, Magnelis coating innovates beyond the typical metal galvanizing process. The magic of Magnelis is its self-healing property. Cut or perforated materials aren’t a problem because the exposed metal is automatically sealed with a protective film of zinc-aluminum-magnesium layered double hydroxides. While the chemical process is complex, the result is simple: The film prevents the aluminum or steel from making contact with oxidizing agents in the surrounding air, meaning it won’t weaken or thin over time. Magnelis has shown itself to be a superior metallic coating for solar ground-mount products to protect them from the elements and extend their lifespan.
Aesthetic enhancement for sloped-roof mounts also benefits installers
As seen with Quick Mount PV’s Tile Replacement Mount
Cutting or grinding roof tiles was once a time-intensive endeavor for solar installers—and when tiles broke despite careful efforts, it was a frustrating one, too. Quick Mount PV is developing tile replacement mounts that let installers remove whole tiles from rooftops and replace them with similar-looking aluminum replacements. The replacements are an aesthetic enhancement for Quick Mount PV’s universal base mount and post, elements that provide structure and strength. Also, because a replacement tile is the same shape as the one it replaces, it greatly diminishes wind-blown rain from entering the roof area. The company says the replacement tile feature cuts down on installation time by as much as 20%.
Half-cut cells eliminate worry of shading losses
As seen in REC TwinPeak modules
Cutting solar cells in half allow for a module’s output to increase and internal resistance to decrease, when coupled with other technology advances. By taking advantage of a half-cell’s smaller size, modules can incorporate better spacing to help capture more reflected light and assist in reducing shading dangers. When panels are better performing, fewer are needed to generate high yields, and BOS costs can be significantly reduced.
REC’s TwinPeak module line has embraced half-cut technology, producing both 60- and 72-cell designs (with 120 and 144 half-cells, respectively). With smaller cells, REC can switch up its panel layout and remove one cross connecter to increase inter-cell spacing and capture more reflected light. This effectively splits the module in half, with two “twin” modules in one. When one of the twin modules is shaded, the other can still perform. The half-cut design (along with PERC technology and four busbars) increases output by about 20 W on the 72-cell module. By delivering more power per square meter, fewer modules are needed, saving time, effort and money.
Cobalt-free battery offers non-toxic storage
As seen in SimpliPhi Power’s PHI 3.4 Smart-Tech battery
Cobalt oxides, the earliest form of lithium-ion chemistry introduced to the energy storage market, are toxic, and cathodes using cobalt oxide are what generate the heat, temperature regulation and fires commonly assoc
iated with lithium-ion batteries. Unmonitored, cobalt can lead to thermal runaway, melt-down and hazardous fires. These unfortunate side effects of cobalt makeups can’t be managed by ventilation or built-in cooling, and external environmental and ambient temperatures also contribute to difficulties. Although earlier generation lithium-ion batteries using cobalt are more energy dense per pound/kilogram on a chemical level, these problems eliminate this fundamental advantage and create batteries that are far heavier, larger, inefficient and more costly over time.
A cobalt-free, lithium ferrous phosphate (LFP) chemistry solves this toxic issue, while still offering the potential for greater efficiency and safety than other battery formulas. SimpliPhi Power’s PHI 3.4-kWh, 60 A deep-cycle LFP battery eliminates the risks of thermal runaway, doesn’t require expensive, bulky cooking or ventilation, can cycle daily for 10 years and provides an overall more robust, safe and efficient delivery of power.
Digital processing improves inverter size, efficiency and reliability
As seen in SolarEdge’s HD-Wave technology inverter
String inverters can be heavy, making installation difficult, and they usually require a way to manage heat, which can add to their weight and increase their potential to fail.
SolarEdge recently won an Intersolar Award for a new power conversion technology that uses distributed switching and a powerful digital signal processor to create cleaner sine waves and generate less heat. This technology, called HD-Wave, increases conversion efficiency to a record breaking 99% while at the same time decreasing product weight in half when compared to traditional string inverters. The inverter is designed for outstanding reliability through the use of thin-film capacitors instead of the traditional electrolytic capacitors. HD-Wave inverters offer users greater flexibility through higher DC/AC oversizing (up to 155%) and longer string lengths—almost two times longer than traditional inverters (up to 6,000 W on 7.6-kW model). HD-Wave inverters also feature the latest in safety and code compliance with integrated auto rapid shutdown. Installers will appreciate faster installation with a smaller and lighter inverter and easier commissioning with the introduction of a new four-button touchscreen and rapid pairing.
Overlapping solar cells to remove white space improves output and longevity
As seen in Solaria PowerXT modules
By removing visual gaps between cells, solar panels receive two main benefits. First, they’re more visually appealing and open up a new market to consumers concerned about aesthetics. Second, power losses due to shadowing are reduced because cells are connected without busbars.
Solaria’s PowerXT module makes use of this production process to optimize 330-W and 400-W modules for the residential and commercial sectors. Solaria solar cells are cut and overlaid using a ribbon-less, solder-free interconnection. This more efficient packing assembly process enables modules with 15% greater power than conventional modules, mostly because there are more cells occupying the surface area of the module. There’s also no shading from the eliminated busbars and no threat of microcracks caused by busbar soldering.
Through this no-white-space design, power is super boosted and long-term reliability is guaranteed because nothing mechanical is being used to potentially damage solar cells.
Sensors provide instantaneous feedback on tracker health
As seen with SunLink TechTrack Distributed
A multitude of monitoring devices can tell you how well your panels are performing, but what about your mounting system? SunLink is equipping solar trackers with sensors to monitor mechanical and electrical performance, as well as gather data on real-time environmental conditions to create a complete picture of system performance. Sensors report current tracker tilt, irradiance, wind, snow and flooding levels. Accelerometers measure the impact of environmental loads and forces on the mechanical structure.
lectrical sensors monitor the performance of inverters, batteries and other devices. Users can make sense of the data with SunLink’s VERTEX monitoring platform, which forms an all-encompassing real-time view of what’s happening with the tracker. In the end, the sensors along with the VERTEX monitoring platform should empower solar plants to take care of themselves while providing proactive operations management to the owners.
Bifacial cells capture previously reflected solar energy
As seen in SolarWorld Bisun modules
The albedo effect: When a portion of solar energy is reflected back into space. Instead of losing this reflected energy, solar panels could perform much better if they captured this leftover light. Bifacial solar cells aim to do just that.
SolarWorld’s new Sunmodule Bisun product offers up to 25% more yield thanks to its bifacial, duo cells. Instead of being covered by a backsheet, the Bisun module’s backside is encased in glass, activating solar cells on both sides. Sunlight is collected on the face of the solar panels as well as reflected onto the back. Ideal for ground-mounts and flat rooftop installations, bifacial solar panels work even better when combined with reflective surfaces, such as white membrane roofs or white stones. A 330-W bifacial panel can produce energy equivalent to a conventional 410-W panel.
An increased energy yield helps to reduce the pay-off period of a solar array.
Yield forecasts provide relevant monitoring data even on cloudy days
As seen in Solar-Log’s WEB Commercial Edition
Solar-Log has developed a way to evaluate the performance of a solar array and make real-time weather conditions part of the equation. The yield forecasting feature within the Solar-Log WEB Commercial Edition platform provides a benchmark for solar installers to compare expected power output to actual yield. The forecasts are created with integrated satellite weather data, open source performance data from PVWatts, power produced by nearby plants and optional on-site weather sensors.
By using a variety of forecasting tools the installer or plant owner has a more accurate projection of solar irradiance and PV plant power production. The platform alerts installers or plant owners to deviations between projected and actual yield. Installers are then able to identify and correct inverter failures or plant issues quickly, leading to faster recovery and minimizing power losses. Another unique advantage of Solar-Log’s yield forecasting is the product’s compatibility with 100 inverter brands. This extensive compatibility list provides one centralized portal for the installer, eliminating the need to manage many different monitoring systems.
Metal-on-metal flashing seals arrays for an electrically bonded future
As seen in Solar SpeedRack systems
Most flashing uses seals made with rubber rings, bushings or gaskets. Solar SpeedRack has upended the traditional design of flashing with a proprietary all-metal seal designed specifically for solar installations. The two-part seal consists of a male/female design that sandwiches a sheet metal flashing, creating a pressed ring indentation in the metal, which creates the first part of the seal. The second part of the seal is a special bolt with a conical neck that is mechanically fastened into a hole. The action of fastening the bolt mechanically forms and bonds all the components together. This method not only creates a water-tight seal but also electrically bonds all components. Typical flashing that uses rubber isolates components from bonding and could degrade over time. Representatives of Solar SpeedRack believe AHJs or UL code will one day require that all system parts be electrically bonded. If that comes to pass, installers will know where to find products that comply.
Built-in racking adjustability keeps construction on schedule
As seen in TerraSmart’s TF2 ground mount
Product and engineering teams at TerraSmart know that in-field convenience is paramount for installation teams, so a key feature of the company’s TF2 rack is adjustability. In-rack adjustability lets installers forget about punching extra holes or making physical alterations to the rack in the field. Adjustability is accomplished with ubiquitous slotting that allows on-site adjustment for module leveling. Once bolts are in place, no back-wrenching is required. The adjustability also helps mitigate unforeseen terrain conditions that could keep projects at bay. Combined with other in-field conveniences like integrated wire management and reduced parts, the TerraSmart team has reported a 35% reduction in installation work-hours compared to similar systems.
Any-time height adjustment eases installs
As seen on Unirac’s Sunframe Microrail
Most PV racking systems require the installer to adjust height prior to mounting modules. For rail-based systems, this is not a major problem because rails tend to “self-level” and modules are automatically aligned. For rail-less systems, the situation is very different and getting aligned modules on an undulating roof is very difficult.
Post-install height adjustment solves these issues. Modules are installed on the attachments without regard for alignment and height adjustment, and the whole array can be eyeballed in one simple step that results in an array that is much more accurately aligned. Technically, the upper clamp is mounted on a floating helix that travels in an internal tower. This allows the clamp to travel up and down without having to be rotated like many current systems that ride along a threaded bolt. For the installer, the process of adjusting the height is simple. Just insert the same tool (a 1/4-in. hex drive) used for the rest of the system into the access hole at the top of the clamp and spin the internal helix. One direction moves the clamp up, the other moves it down.