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solar technology trends at #solpwr09

With over 26,000 thousand people attending Solar Power International 2009 at the Anaheim Convention Center on the last week of October, the conference broke attendance records. The massive exhibition hall featured 929 solar companies throughout the entire solar industry supply chain. This year show was so large in scale, it was way too easy to get lost between the aisles of exhibitors. My objective of being at Solar Power International 2009 was not to visit every booth, but to scout out cutting edge solar photovoltaic technology. Here’s what I think was cool at the show this year: Solar Micro-Inverters: The new Enphase D380 “TwinPack” Micro-inverter offers double the power at half the labor. The new D series product line focuses on the needs of a commercial installation in which it’s much too cumbersome to install an Enphase M190 unit behind each solar panel. The Enphase D380 is called a “TwinPack” because it has two Micro-inverters within one housing. The benefits include, reducing installation costs through the two in one design, Reduced balance of system costs and installation time are realized through a 50 percent reduction in the number parts, 33 percent fewer connections and junction boxes, the Enphase D380 also reduces installation time by an innovative cabling system. Soon Enphase Energy is not going to be the only one offering a solar micro-inverter. DirectGrid, a company based in New York is developing it’s own version of a micro-inverter that will initially only work combined with thin film solar panels and also have the option to add on smart grid compatibility. Direct Grid Technologies is a new player in the solar micro-inverter space but is a subsidiary of Island Technology which is in the business of the design, manufacture and support of utility power grid monitoring & distribution systems. The picture of the mirco-inverter above shows the Direct Grid Technologies DGA-S300, which has an AC output of 300 watts 120/240 volts 50/60 hz. The DGA-S300 has a nominal DC input range of 12-170 volts, which is a wide range to accommodate many types of thin film solar panels. AC Solar Panels: Solar Panels that come off the manufacturing line with micro-inverters integrated are going to be the next trend in photovoltaic technology. As solar micro-inverter technology continues to improve and shrink in size, this could be the game changing technology that can make solar much simpler and more cost effective to install. Enphase had an interesting AC module for display that had a prototype inverter built into directly into the solar panel! Solar Power Industries has partnered up with veteran solar inverter manufacturer, ExelTech to offer their own version of...

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solar panels + grid alternatives = fun

I had a great weekend volunteering for GRID Alternatives to install solar panels for a low income family in Lynwood, CA. For those of you who don’t know GRID Alternatives, they’re a non-profit who’s on a mission to empower communities in need by providing renewable energy and energy efficiency services, equipment and training. Since 2001, GRID Alternatives has been working to bring the power of solar electricity and energy efficiency to low-income homeowners, and to provide community members with training and hands-on experience with renewable energy technologies. GRID Alternatives believes making energy choices that are good for the environment can go hand-in-hand with improving the lives of those living in low-income communities. It took Anna and Alan, experienced Grid Alternatives staff and the team of volunteers two full days at to complete the installation of the 1.4 kW solar electric system which consisted of 7 Canadian Solar 200 watt (CS6PE) solar panels, a PVPowered 2000 watt (PVP2000) grid tie inverter and Pro Solar mounting hardware. The most difficult part of installing the solar panels over the detached garage was working on the concrete s-tile roof. These are very delicate type of roof tiles, walking on them without breaking them is impossible, it’s like walking on egg shells. It took us extra time to replace all the roofing s-tile shingles that were damaged in the process. The hot Southern California climate did not spare us over the weekend, during the afternoon the s-tiles shingles became extremely hot making it even more difficult and uncomfortable to get the mounting hardware installed. Before the 6 inch standoffs were installed and sealed with silicon, the fast jacks needed to be attached to the rafters of the detached garage. Also each penetrations needed flashing to ensure they are water tight. Locating the rafters in a building and making sure you’re drilling into them is a challenging part of installing solar panels. Once the standoffs were in place the roof team was ready for the rails which were assembled on the ground. We had to cut the Pro Solar Rails to size and have them prepared for the roof team to secure to the stand offs. There are many components involved with putting the rails together, which could be confusing if you don’t have all your parts organized. After the rails were passed on from the ground to the roof, they were immediately attached to the standoffs. Once we got the rails secured to the standoffs, it was time to get the solar panels mounted on top of the rails. It was easier to get the solar panels mounted to the rails because we had...

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SMA Sunny Portal goes mobile

Customers are getting used to monitoring the performance of their solar electric system with SMA inverters and a webbox on their computer screens. But how about those people who live the on the go lifestyle that want to keep up to date of how much electricity their solar panels are producing? If you have a SMA SunnyBoy Inverter with a webbox, your inverter’s data is uploaded to the SunnyPortal via the Internet. Recently, SMA launched their “mobile friendly” version of the SunnyPortal that you can access from your cell phone’s web browser. I think this is great offering that SMA brings to their table because it increases the customer experience of owning a solar electric system by being connected to the system anytime the owner wishes. Also people are more willing to talk about their system to others if they can bring the data with them and show other customers. Would you check on your solar panels from your cell...

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Suntech’s pluto tech breaks multicrystalline record

Recently the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Germany verified that the Chinese Solar Manufacturer, Suntech broke a world record for commerical grade multicrystalline solar cells. Suntech’s Pluto technology clocked in at an efficiency of 15.6% in laboratory conditions. The previous record for commerical grade multicrystalline solar cells was set 15 years ago by Sandia National Labs. According to Suntech, the Pluto technology is the primary driver behind the solar cell’s great performance and can be applied to both mono and polycrystalline solar cells. The company has already began shipping solar panels that feature Pluto technology as more solar panel manufacturers compete to have the most highly efficient solar panel on the market. What do you think about Suntech solar panels? Do you think Pluto technology will perform highly in real world...

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Carter’s solar panels at the Smithsonian

Back in 1979 the Jimmy Carter Administration created the “Solar America” initiative, aimed to help Americans go solar, the White House itself was retrofitted with solar panels that heat water. Fast forward to 1986, Reagan removed the perfectly working solar panels, I wonder why? In 1991 the solar panels once used to heat the water at the White House were sold to Unity College which used them to provide hot water to their college cafeteria until 2005, the point in which the solar hot water system reached its lifetime. Recently the The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History purchased the solar panel and have put them up for display. President Carter installing solar panels at the White House in 1979 serves as great symbolism of how the Carter Administration wanted to shape the energy future. What happened? Why did we go off track until...

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SMA offers greater support for 100 amp services

SMA is taking customer feedback and making proactive changes in their product line to serve customers even better. Recently the company modified their Sunyboy SB4000US inverter to be compatible with 100amp residential electric services. The current output on the SB4000US grid tie inverter has been reduced to 16 amps to comply with the NEC (national electric code) to provide more flexibility to installers to work on a 100 amp service. Most homes in the U.S. have at least a 200amp service, although many older homes are stuck with a 100 amp service which can be costly and time consuming to upgrade. Having a 100 amp service can create a barrier to install a solar array between 3 or 4 kilowatts. With the modifications made by SMA to the SB4000US grid tie inverter, customers on a 100 amp service now have greater options on the size of solar array they can install using a SMA inverters. The modified SB4000US inverters compatible with 100 amp services have to be special ordered since they are modified when the order has been...

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