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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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You Can Add Energy Storage to Grid-Tie Solar
Jul11

You Can Add Energy Storage to Grid-Tie Solar

Energy storage systems for solar are becoming more popular. People want to have back-up power during power outages and changes in net metering and time of use electric rates can give energy storage options a better payback. When going solar, many people feel pressured that they must make the decision about energy storage up front. But the truth is that adding energy storage to an existing grid-tied system is easy. The best part is that you do not have to remove or change any of your existing grid-tie system when you add batteries. This surprises many people who understand traditional solar power systems with batteries, but it is all about DC coupling versus AC coupling. For many years, solar with energy storage was always set up as a DC coupled system. Solar panels were connected to a charge controller which managed the solar power going into the batteries and kept the batteries from being overcharged. The power from the solar panels and the batteries is all DC, hence the term DC coupling. Then a battery-based inverter was used to convert the DC power from the batteries to AC power to feed the loads. This technology is all still used for some systems, but it is no longer the only option. This is great news for anyone who has grid-tied solar already installed and wants to add energy storage. Grid-tied systems have the solar panels connected to an inverter (or microinverters) that change that DC power from the solar to AC power from the loads. These grid-tied inverters do not work with batteries, and until the last decade, installing a battery system meant removing that grid-tied inverter and replacing it with a charge controller and battery-based inverter. But now there is a better way that is rapidly gaining popularity and it is called AC coupling. In an AC coupled system, you connect the AC output of a battery-based inverter to the AC output of a  grid-tied inverter. This will work with any grid-tied inverter or microinverters, but you must be careful in your choice of the battery-based inverter as it needs to have the right functionality. Inverters like the Outback GS Radian are specially designed with AC coupling in mind. Outback even packages it with batteries as a complete kit to make the choice easy. If you have a grid-tied solar system, you probably already know that it does not work during a power outage. The reason for this is that grid-tied inverters will not make AC power unless they have AC power coming to them from the grid. When you install the battery-based inverter, it creates AC power that...

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SunJack’s newest light: All the colors of rainbow powered by the sun
Jul29

SunJack’s newest light: All the colors of rainbow powered by the sun

  The creators of the world’s most powerful portable solar charger, SunJack, just released the MultiColor CampLight™ – a daisy-chainable USB light bulb that can change colors with the touch of a button.   “We’re excited to bring the power of indoor lighting, outdoors. Now people can enjoy mood lighting and create ambiance in their tent just like they would in a high-end living room!”, says Harold Tan, CMO.   SunJack produces an array of portable solar charging products, including the famous SunJack 20 — a foldable 20 Watt solar panel with battery backup — which has been featured in Outside Magazine and the Survivalist. The unit’s efficient monocrystalline solar cells can simultaneously charge two Qualcomm Quickcharge battery packs, which fills in five hours and powers up to eight smartphones.     SunJack’s newest addition, the Color Camplight™ is the first of its kind for outdoor adventurers. A remote control allows users to switch between 16 colors and five settings (steady, flash, strobe, fade, smooth), while adjusting brightness levels.       The MultiColor CampLight™ also comes with the option to connect additional SunJack lights in a daisy chain, allowing outdoor enthusiasts the option for surround lighting or even a multicolored dance party in nature.   All of SunJack’s USB LED lights are shatter, shock and vibration resistant and shine at 340 lumens or the equivalent of of a 40W incandescent bulb. The lights can be powered by any  standard USB source, be it a wall plug, laptop or powerbank.   Pursuing its mission to provide renewable energy independence to people around the world, SunJack launched in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and donates solar and lighting solutions to people in developing countries in addition to powering first-world luxuries. The MultiColor CampLight™ retails for $20 from SunJack.com, Amazon.com, and various retailers across the nation.   ABOUT SUNJACK GIGAWATT INC. DBA SUNJACK, develops solutions to help people stay powered. Since 2006, GigaWatt Inc has been distributing and installing solar for residential, commercial, and government customers. In 2014 SunJack was launched on Kickstarter to continue spreading the power of solar across the globe. For further information about SUNJACK and its products, please visit http://www.sunjack.com or call us at (888)...

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The Big Advantage of MicroInverters
Feb24

The Big Advantage of MicroInverters

In the old days of solar, all the PV panels used to be connected to a single, large inverter that would convert the direct current (DC) of the sun into the alternating current (AC) we use in outlets around the home. The system acted like one giant solar panel, with its max current rating equivalent to its poorest performing PV unit. That means if one of those connected panels experienced a reduction in energy because it was covered by shade or it failed, the entire system would experience that loss. Similar to the way a string of christmas lights will fail if one goes down, the saying, “you’re only strong as your weakest link” comes to mind when thinking of how these single inverter setups work. Then in 2008 Enhphase released the first commercially successful microinverter. The idea behind the project was to allow each panel to function more autonomously, so if one panel had issues the entire energy output of the system wouldn’t suffer. In order to do this, microinverters are used on every PV panel or every other PV panel, and have become popular in homes, where solar array sizes are small and maximizing the performance of every panel is necessary. Since 2008, microinverters have become increasingly intelligent and companies such as APsystems have innovated technology like a Field Programmable Gate Array chip with software that can be wireless programed to modify each panel’s DC-to-AC conversion to meet the demands of a changing environment without needing to climb up on the roof and replace the hardware. Such residential microinverters like the APsystem’s YC500A allow users to monitor each microinverter unit, giving them a clear overview of the entire system at any time. If a panel fails or is not performing well, it can be quickly identified. Additionally, because every unit functions more independently than the antiquated single inverter system, different models of solar panels can be rigged up to feed into the same power system. This makes it so a homeowner doesn’t have to replace all their PV panels at one time, but can swap out or add new panels as the technology improves. No doubt that when it comes to renewable energy such as PV solar or wind turbines, microinverters offer more flexibility and advantage. Some studies put them at producing 5-25% more power than the single inverter systems. As the solar market continues to expand, we’re going to see these little guys make a huge...

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