Innovation never sleeps in the solar industry, as evident in the swath of new products released in the past year. While tariffs may keep some products at a higher price, advances across the board to bring hard and soft costs down are making solar systems more affordable and efficient as possible.
The SPW editors traveled to tradeshows and read through every new product announcement from 2019 to choose our top choices for the most innovative products available today or at least coming to market very soon. Let us know how these products work out and what we should be excited for in 2020!
Be sure to check out an even more extensive database of this year’s Top Products here.
Rail-less mounting for any metal rooftop
It would be convenient if every rooftop in the United States was made of the same material. Maybe then there would be a universally accepted mounting solution for solar. But in the meantime, at least for metal rooftops, there is Ecolibrium’s MetalX Simplified Racking System.
If installing rail-less mounts isn’t too big of an ask, MetalX is designed to adapt to all metal roof types — standing seam, corrugated, R-panel — across solar markets. The mount is made of only three components: XClamps, preassembled couplings and, of course, the roof mount. MetalX is compatible with 30- to 50-mm module frames and its couplings promise to cut the number of attachment points required for installation.
MetalX comes with optional accessories, like cable clamps that attach to the XClamps or module frames for easier wire management, a common issue in rail-less mounting options. Panel racking drops straight into properly aligned mounts; and since installers using MetalX will be working without rails, that means less for them to carry onto rooftops.
String inverter installations as simple as iPhone setup
As seen in the Fronius Primo GEN24 string inverter
Apple is known for simplistic design, from packaging to setup. When you open a new iPhone, the small box is filled with only the essentials, in the order you need them — phone, charger, headphones, manuals. Inverter companies are now working to make unboxing and installation as easy as Apple for solar contractors.
Fronius’s Primo GEN24 string inverter is the company’s first hybrid model, and its smallest. The sleek, square design features its signature SnapINverter mounting method using a square wall-mounted bracket and plug-in wiring.
The company has even simplified the little things in installation — the Primo uses 180° locking screws to shorten drilling time, and the device is packaged with the mounting bracket on top, in order of what must be installed first to last. Once installed, the inverter can be commissioned using an app.
The hardworking GEN24 can keep one outlet alive if the grid goes down during the day without a battery. With a battery added, the GEN24 inverter can supply the whole house with emergency power when the grid goes down, day or night. Installers can give homeowners all those features in a flash thanks to easy installation and setup.
A universal energy storage system takes the guesswork out of solar+storage retrofits
As seen in the Humless Universal Energy Management system
Adding storage to a solar project can be complicated. Will the project be AC- or DC-coupled? Can the inverter handle storage functions? Is the battery compatible with the inverter brand? It doesn’t have to be this complex — just find an energy storage system that integrates with any manufacturer’s panels, inverters and batteries and enables simultaneous AC and DC coupling.
Humless made it happen with its Universal Energy Management (UEM) system. First developed for off-grid environments in Africa where developers didn’t have easy ways to ensure system components were compatible, UEM is ideal for solar retrofits in the United States where marrying existing products with evolving power needs is a rising problem. UEM is brand-agnostic, so any inverter can work with any 48-V battery. And UEM’s ability to AC- and DC-couple simultaneously provides more energy management options for end users — batteries can be charged by solar panels or bypassed to extend battery life.
Inverter company ABB was looking for a battery to recommend as compatible with its residential inverters when it approached Humless. Rather than pick one battery model, ABB can allow end users to choose whichever batteries they want through the UEM system. This first inverter partnership signals big things for Humless and universal energy storage systems. Installers are looking for tested, single units to quickly get solar-plus-storage retrofits off the ground.
HJT packs more power in a small solar panel punch
As seen in REC‘s Alpha Series
Commercial and utility-scale projects benefit from having more space — more room for larger arrays and more powerful 72-cell solar panels. We’re seeing many 72-cell models pushing 425 W, easily. But on residential projects, space constraints still call for 60-cell panels, and installers and end-customers still want those big-number power outputs.
REC Group released a solution with the world’s most powerful 60-cell solar panel. Although it only reaches 380 W, that still represents a 20% increase of power over conventional 60-cell panels. The REC Alpha Series continues the company’s pioneering “twin panel” design, using 120 half-cut cells, but this time REC turned to heterojunction technology (HJT). HJT combines the best qualities of crystalline silicon with those from amorphous silicon thin-film to produce a high-power hybrid cell. HJT cells are what pushed the 60-cell Alpha module to the highest power ratings in the industry (REC’s legacy TwinPeak 60-cell module series using half-cut PERC cells hits 330 W).
REC is very confident in HJT, announcing in August that it would increase its production capacity of the new Alpha series from 600 MW to multiple gigawatts at its Singapore manufacturing facility. The Alpha module reaches 21.7% efficiency and is backed by REC’s 25-year product warranty and a 25-year performance warranty that guarantees 92% of initial power at year 25. REC drew a line in the sand by investing in HJT, and other manufacturers are sure to follow suit to stay competitive in the growing residential market.
Virtual reality apps make it easier to service central inverters
As seen in SMA’s Virtual Service App for central inverters
When weighing the benefits of string vs. central inverters for utility-scale solar projects, string models generally win because of their ease of serviceability. Typically, when central inverters go down, experts must be hired to perform the maintenance. SMA’s new Virtual Service App aims to solve this challenge through augmented reality.
Technicians simply open the mobile app, scan the code on the Sunny Central UP inverter and then enter a Virtual Reality portal. Once there, they can hold their device up to the inverter to identify faults and error codes, then view videos and circuit diagrams as well as step-by-step replacement instructions.
Contractors must go through an online training course before they can use the app, but once they’ve completed it, they’re able to perform central inverter maintenance without calling in an outside expert. This service assistance can save money on O&M and cut the project’s downtime too.
A tracker that ditches drivelines for airbags
As seen in the Sunfolding T29 Single-Axis Tracker
Picture the actuators on a single-axis solar tracker, and what comes to mind? A shared driveline, extending between columns of panels or maybe a driver to every row of modules. Gearboxes and motors are the standard, but Sunfolding’s T29 Single-Axis Tracker diverted tracking expectations when it first hit the solar market with AirDrive, a proprietary airbag driver that inflates and deflates to enable tracking.
Now, the T29 has been updated from its previous model. It’s still manufactured using the same fabrication processes, but in this latest iteration, Sunfolding took greater consideration for assembly and shipping. The single-axis tracker is constructed using a single bolt-type throughout, minimizing the number of components needed for assembly, which cut system weight by 20%, and requires 15% fewer posts for mounting than its previous model.
With the T29, AirDrive is installed on the back of every individual set of racking to give installers greater adjustability for row lengths and undulating topography at worksites. Using an air-driven actuator in lieu of motors and gearboxes means systems endure less wear and tear. Plus, T29 racking is compatible with any type of ground mount foundation — from ballast to ground screw.