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Solar Panel Certifications Demystified
Jul17

Solar Panel Certifications Demystified

With dozens of brands of solar panels on the market, choosing which one to buy can be a conundrum. One of the things you that may help you navigate this field is to understand the various certifications that are given to solar panels and all the acronyms that go with them. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a global independent safety science company with more than a century of expertise innovating safety solutions. The first thing you need to know is the difference between a “standard” and a “certification”. Standards are design qualifications written by entities like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) whose acronym makes better sense in other languages. When a solar panel receives a certification, it means that a recognized, approved lab has tested that solar panel to make sure it meets certain standards.  UL 1703 is the set of standards for safety for flat-plate PV Modules Let’s look at UL 1703 as an example. Officially published by Underwriters Laboratories, UL 1703 is the set of standards for safety for flat-plate PV Modules (aka the commonly used solar panels with the glass on the front). Cities and counties in the United States will only provide installation permits for systems that have solar panels that have the UL 1703 certification. This means that a manufacturer must send their solar panels to a Nationally Recognized Test Laboratory (NRTL) like Underwriters Laboratories, Intertek, TUV or CSA Group to have it tested. If it passes the test, that lab will provide a certification that the solar panel meets the UL 1703 standard. This process is also called UL listing and when the solar panel gets its official certification the manufacturer can say it is UL Listed. A UL Listed solar panel will have a special “mark” on its label from the NRTL that certified it. TÜV Rheinland is the leading provider of product testing and certifications for the worldwide marketplace.  While getting the UL 1703 Listing is a requirement, the solar panel manufacturers can step up their game and have the lab also test for other standards like IEC 61215 standards for durability and performance for standard monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV module. The IEC 61646 is a similar set of durability and performance standards for thin film PV modules. There are also very specific standards like IEC 61701 that includes salt mist corrosion tests (which you should look for if you are installing your solar panels on your beach house) or IEC 62716 that includes ammonia corrosion tests (in case you are installing your solar panels in agricultural environments).    PVEL is the independent lab for the...

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QCell Q.Peak DUO-G5 Advantage
Jan03

QCell Q.Peak DUO-G5 Advantage

Everyone knows solar panels are a good idea but are there certain ones that are a better idea than others? The answer is a resounding yes. Let’s take a look at the new QCell Q.Peak DUO-G5 as an example of a superior and award winning PV module. There are many innovations that have gone into improving the power output of the Q.PEAK DUO-G5 solar panels.  One is that the solar cells are interconnected with wires instead of flat ribbons on cells. These wires take up less surface area allowing the sunlight to hit more of the cell area. The innovative design also allows light reflected off the wires to be redirected back onto the module surface. This alone increases power production by 2.5%. Another design advantage was QCell’s choice to use six busbars on each cell. This decreases the space between busbars which means that the individual electrons have a shorter path to the busbar, decreasing losses to resistance. The extra busbars also allow better electron flow as there are more busbars to carry them. The six busbars result in a 1% increase in power production. Half-size solar cells in the Q.PEAK DUO G5 module increase power production by 3% by reducing the current which reduces the resistive losses within the cells. The half cell design also increases stability against pressure on the module, reducing the risk of the cell cracking. The chance of cracking is further reduced by the way the cells are cut with a smoother edge than typical solar cells. Plus, with the if a cell does crack, the six busbars mentioned above help mitigate the effects of the cracks causing resistive losses. Creating a much more stable design over all. This more stable design means a lower degradation rate of only .054% annually. QCell offers the guarantee of at least 85% production after 25 years on these innovative solar panels. The DUO-G5 PV modules are also different in their cell interconnection design. The upper and lower sections of the modules are connected in parallel instead of series. This results in higher power production when the module is partially shaded because the unshaded half of the module can still perform at 100%. Other technology that increases the performance of these solar panels is the Anti PID technology that reduces losses in wet climates. Hot-spot Protect (HSP) eliminates cells that have a high risk of creating hot spots from the production line keeping the modules hot spot free. As a matter of fact, all the solar cells on the production line are tracked with laser markings that are part of QCell’s TRA.Q traceable quality system. Anti LID...

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Solar Battery Showdown: Tesla Powerwall vs Blue Ion
Nov01

Solar Battery Showdown: Tesla Powerwall vs Blue Ion

If you’ve been looking to buy a battery to store renewable energy you might have noticed something strange — the shelves are nearly empty. The energy storage market, which up until recently had more than a half-dozen varieties to choose from, has gone through a bottleneck and drastically reduced in size, leaving only two competitors with any product left to sell. The reasons for the shortage are no mystery. With the portent of next year’s tariffs looming on the horizon and a narrowing window on government incentives, 2018 saw a rush to purchase energy storage units, such as the sonnenBatterie eco and LG Chem RESU, which were selling at record low prices. Now that the dust has begun to settle, the only two companies left standing are the Tesla Powerwall and the Blue Ion 2.0. The first might not come as a shock. The Tesla Powerwall is one product in a suite of Elon Musk’s renewable innovations, which enjoyed the advantage of first mover in the marketplace back in 2015. Tesla is also a larger company, and has the industrial infrastructure to create enough supply to satisfy market demand. The Blue Ion 2.0 was a bit later to the energy storage game. Reasons for its available stock most likely have to do with the fact that its founder, Henk Rogers, also happens to be the innovator of the pop-video game franchise Tetris, affording the company with enough startup capital to create more products than its competitors. Another possible reason for its availability is its price-point. Costing nearly twice the amount of a Powerwall, the Blue Ion 2.0 might seem more pricey at first glance. However, a side by side comparison of the two products reveals some noteworthy differences that might help justify the higher price tag for consumers shopping for the best deal.   BATTERY COMPOUNDS POWERWALL Powerwall runs on lithium manganese cobalt batteries, the same sort of stuff that’s used for power tools and powertrains on vehicles. Because the battery is made partially of manganese, the raw material cost is lower than other options as cobalt can be expensive. BLUE ION 2.0 Sony’s lithium ferrous phosphate batteries, which power the Blue Ion 2.0, are a high-end battery compound allowing for more efficient power storage. These batteries aren’t plagued by the same thermal runaway that traditional energy storage units are. The company claims its batteries are safer than Tesla’s, with the difference in material quality affecting all its other performance facets down the line. CHARGE POWERWALL It takes approximately 2 hours to charge a Powerwall using either peak sunlight or grid power. The battery has a leg up on...

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Chinese Vs American Solar Panels
Sep17

Chinese Vs American Solar Panels

Yes, you should buy solar panels, but… Should you buy solar panels that are made in America or solar panels that are made in China? We live in a modern world that operates on a global level. Things are made all over the world and solar panels are no exception to this. Even if a solar panel is labeled and marketed as “Made in the USA” it is very likely that the solar cells and/or other parts of the panel were made overseas. All the manufacturer must do for that “USA” label is assemble the foreign parts here in America. There are exceptions to this, but most solar cells are made in Asian countries, even in those panels that are assembled in the US. Does being made in Asia automatically mean the solar cell is of lesser quality. No, it doesn’t. The truth is that there are poor quality products being made in every country. History has shown that even some solar panels that were fully manufactured in the United States have had issues. But, fear not, there are also high quality products being made in every country.  There are top tier Chinese panels made by public companies with world class factories and clean rooms like Trina, Canadian Solar and JA Solar. Just as there are great solar panels made or assembled in America like Sunspark, SolarWorld and Gigawatt. Finding quality solar panels is more about brand than country of origin. We have a magic word we use in the solar industry, “bankability”. When a bank decides to offer leases on solar equipment, they have a lot at stake. They will end up owning hundreds if not thousands of systems, all with contracts that guarantee the end user a certain amount of production for up to 20 years. If the solar panels in these systems fail on a large scale, it will cost the bank a lot of money. So, before investing in a particular solar brand, the bank will do everything they can to ensure they are getting a quality, “bankable” product. This assurance includes third party engineering assessments of factories and products as well as evaluation of the manufacturing company’s longevity and ability to honor warranties in the long term. The banks have a lot of resources to put into these bankability studies. As an individual consumer, all you have to do is look at what brands the banks have chosen and use those on your own projects. There is also the consideration of price. Researching Chinese solar panels will bring up many news articles about tariffs being passed and the price hikes they may cause. In the end...

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New Solar Cell Technologies
Aug22

New Solar Cell Technologies

Over the years, we have seen the standard monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV modules increase in wattage per square foot, but they are getting close to the maximum possible efficiency on these typical solar cells. But manufacturers aren’t giving up, there are a few new up and coming technologies that will continue the progress of PV efficiency. Split cell technology uses the same solar material but cuts the cells in half. The new smaller solar cells have the same voltage as the original size cells, but they have half the amps. Putting 2 of these cells together gives you the same wattage as a single standard cell, but that wattage is a higher voltage and lower amperage. Power loss on conductors like the busbars inside a PV module is caused by voltage drop which is amps multiplied by resistance. Less amps means less voltage drop which means less power loss on the internal conductors. Voltage drop also causes heat build up so lower amps means the PV module is operating at lower temperatures, further increasing the efficiency. Overall, using split cell technology can increase solar panel power output by 5 to 8 watts per module. This lower operating temperature also increases the expected life span of the module as excessive heat leads to degradation. N-type solar cells are not new, but they are gaining popularity in the industry which until recently has been dominated by the p-type solar cells. Solar cells are made by “doping” silicon with very small amounts of either Boron to make the silicon more positively charged (p-type) or Phosphorus to make the silicon more negatively charged (n-type). The p-type solar cells are cheaper to make, but the n-type cells are more efficient. Adding to this, the Boron in the p-type cells causes an undesirable effect called Light Induced Degradation (LID). LID happens in the first few days and weeks that the p-type cell is exposed to sunlight and it can reduce its efficiency by 2%-3%. The n-type cells do not experience LID, so not only do they start at a higher efficiency than p-type and they maintain that efficiency over time. Another advantage of n-type cells is they are not as sensitive to impurities in the silicon base so manufacturers of n-type cells can use lower quality silicon without impacting the efficiency. Currently n-type PV modules are still more expensive than p-type, but many people are willing to pay for the higher efficiency, so the n-type is gaining in market share. Back contact (or rear contact) solar cells are another innovation coming to the forefront. A typical PV cell is made in a way that requires...

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60 Cell Vs 72 Cell Modules
Jul16

60 Cell Vs 72 Cell Modules

When shopping for PV modules, you must choose between 60 cell and 72 cell modules. The extra cells mean extra wattage and while many people make the assumption that more is better, this isn’t always the case. There are two basic ways that the extra cells will make the solar panels different, voltage and physical size. Both of these factors should be considered when making the choice. Because all the solar cells in a PV module are connected in series, the 72 cell module will be about 6 volts higher than a 60 cell module. If you are using them with a string inverter this means less panels on each string. If you are using them with microinverters or DC optimizers, you will have to make sure the equipment you choose is designed to handle the higher voltage. Microinverters and DC optimizers for 72 cell modules will typically have a maximum input of 60 volts to prevent issues in even the coldest of temperatures. So now let’s talk about size, which definitely does matter. All standard solar cells are similar in size and efficiency, so the 72 cell PV module is going to be a bit larger. You may be getting more wattage, but your wattage per square foot is still the same. The typical solar module is 6 solar cells wide, so a 72 cell module is the same width as a 60 cell module, but it is about a foot longer and 8 pounds heavier. The typical size for a 60 cell module is 66” x 40” and weighs in at 40 pounds while the 72 cell module is going to be about 78” x 40” and 48 pounds. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, until you are the one that has to move it around. Carrying a standard 60 cell module on a steep sloped roof is awkward, but the 72 cell module, which is likely taller than your biggest crew member, can be a real bear. If it is a two story house, lugging it up to that roof is not going to be fun either. Another challenge of the size is trying to maximize the wattage that you can fit on a residential roof. With limited roof space, the flexibility of the smaller 60 cell module can be a great advantage. Especially as more states are adopting stricter codes for fire access, using a shorter module often means being able to install a whole second or third row which will result in a larger overall system size. Transport also needs to be considered. Trucking companies already don’t like our non-standard sized pallets...

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