Coronavirus may have stopped solar systems for a short time this year, but research and development as well as product development continued without interruption. With home and on-site power supply more important than ever today, many new products of 2020 aimed to make solar panels faster and the user experience easier to reduce solar power consumption.
There weren’t any in-person trade shows for SPW editors to attend and see new products, but we’ve kept an eye on everything that’s happening in every corner of the market this year. These are our top picks for the most innovative products that are being announced and coming soon. We expect these products to change the solar system market – all for the better.
Take a look at an even more extensive database of this year’s top products here.
With intelligent circuits, backup for the whole house becomes a reality
As seen in Lumin
When it comes to solar and energy storage, descriptive words can be confusing at times. A common misconception about battery backup is that the battery actually backs up the entire load of a home. Most of the time, a battery has to be connected to its own protected load field that only supports a few electric circuits. But a handful of “smart circuit” products are coming out so that home backup actually means what it says it is.
For example, the Lumin software / hardware combination is a physical box that taps on the main switchboard to make all of the circuits “intelligent”. Instead of supporting just five circuits across a protected load field, Lumin software now enables load switching, making it easy for homeowners to choose which loads to support during a power failure.
Smart circuits can also monitor the state of charge while controlling the load. When a battery is weak, fully charging an EV is likely not the top priority. Instead, apps like Lumin’s can monitor energy consumption and automatically shed large loads in the event of a failure in order to protect the battery from discharging. Intelligent panels and intelligent circuits give consumers the flexibility to secure all or just a few important loads – on different schedules. The whole house might not hum at full power during an outage, but at least homeowners won’t have to settle for a few power circuits every time a power interruption occurs.
Squeeze out additional production from single-axis trackers
As seen in Nextrackers NX Navigator
Tracking solar systems undoubtedly produces more energy than their fixed-tilt counterparts. GPS technology that shows its way every day is the industry standard because it has long been established where the sun is at any given time. However, there is still room for monitoring and management software that project owners can use to tweak other tracker considerations such as radiant light, compatibility with bifacial modules, and compensation for increasingly common weather events.
With Nextracker’s proprietary monitoring software, NX Navigator, site managers can control their arrays and provide data down to the production efficiency of individual trackers. The software, which works in conjunction with Nextracker’s TrueCapture control system, provides security measures for extreme weather events and heavy snowfall. Site managers can adjust the panels to stow them in a safer nook when the hail falls and plan snow shed actions. Users can even schedule maintenance through NX Navigator.
Incremental improvements for utility-scale tracker projects can increase profits and minimize downtime. Predicting potential failures and maintaining the array is the goal of every site manager. The tools are available for this on smartphones and laptops.
Design software that enables utility-scale solar developers to save soft costs
As seen in PVC complete PVSketch Mega
Residential installers have had access to tools to help them design and sell solar systems for some time. Software like Helioscope and Aurora help them automatically display many iterations of module layouts, kilowatt sizes, and product types to determine the best fit for each home.
Even commercial projects of up to 20 MW can be modeled with existing advanced software. But anything bigger, and the only option for most developers, was AutoCAD. According to Daniel Sherwood, president of PVComplete, in a matter of days a developer would give a team of engineers certain parameters and get a layout back. If developers wanted to see the project with different parameters, it would take another handful of working days. And so on.
With PVSketch Mega, PVComplete is bringing an antidote to this labor-intensive design process.
PVSketch Mega allows users to enter multiple parameters that the computer can evaluate, including fixed or tracking systems, various module types, alternative line spacing measurements, and much more. The software then exports a chart showing each layout along with the number of kilowatt hours. The company is also working on taking into account more LCOE factors like fixed costs, maintenance costs, and more.
“The layout that took an engineering team three or four days to complete can now be done in three or four minutes, but a thousand of them in three or four minutes,” Sherwood said.
PVComplete is best known for PVSketch, an AutoCAD software for utility-scale solar systems. The new browser-based PVSketch Mega tool communicates with the company’s AutoCAD software, allowing designers to export parameters from the web browser to AutoCAD and design the project offline.
“The amount of money you could save by making these decisions early on on a really big website could be millions of dollars. It’s not a joke, ”Sherwood said.
Installation above the clapboard without any problems underneath
As seen in QuickBOLT’s QB2
It should be the goal of every assembly manufacturer to ensure that rooftop solar installers can easily use their products. Reducing trips on the ladder, the number of components and tools that installers must carry, the number of steps to install, and the time required to install each and every part of the system should all be considered by the manufacturer – and sometimes a single product design can be managed to accomplish all of that.
QuickBOLT, formerly known as SolarRoofHook, was the company that announced the viability of top mounts for solar panels back in 2012. His product of the same name skips the traditional method of breaking open composite shingles in order to slide aluminum bolts underneath for sealing. Instead, QuickBOLT goes straight through the clapboard and uses a rubber puck called “microflashing” to keep water out. No shingled shingles, reducing the chance of roof leaks.
The latest iteration of QuickBOLT, QB2, consists of three parts: microflashing, an L-foot, and a draw bolt. The company claims it can be installed in 30 seconds. The delay secures the L-foot on the microflashing, which is driven directly through the clapboard into a rafter. QuickBOLT is reserved for rafters, but will soon be launching a top bracket that can be attached to the decking.
Installers and manufacturers are seeing that rooftop solar mounting tends towards top-mount solutions. Several companies are releasing their own versions in 2020 alone. Given the spirited nature of asphalt shingle roofs, any way to reduce potential damage to them is positive.
Solar modules with large wafers that break performance records
As seen in Trina Solar’s Vertex range of modules
Unfortunately, current solar module technologies are reaching their limits when it comes to improving efficiency. The only way to make solar panels more powerful is to get bigger. Instead of having a massive solar panel that has to be installed by crane, one way to create a more powerful module with the same space requirement is to switch to larger silicon wafers. Silicon wafers are the building blocks of crystalline silicon solar cells that combine to form solar collectors. The larger the wafer, the more electricity it can generate due to its larger surface.
Many companies have adopted this simple concept and brought large format panels to market last year, but one of the first was Trina Solar with its vertex bifacial modules with the largest wafer size (G12 / 210mm). The two-glass 12-busbar panel uses only 50 three-edged cells to achieve over 500W and 21% efficiency. This corresponds to an efficiency increase of 100 W and 0.5% compared to Trina’s Duomax bifacial module, which uses 72 smaller wafers. And Vertex modules are relatively the same size – give or take a few inches either way – as the utility market is used to.
The main selling point for these larger wafer plates is the ability to generate more energy in less space. By using fewer panels, the system balance costs can be reduced. This is an easy sell for multi-megawatt floor mounts, but some more improvements are needed to get large wafers into the non-utility sector. Don’t worry, Trina is already working on its Vertex S line, a more compact version of the original Vertex modules.
Inverters that safely maximize valuable solar power
As seen in Yaskawa Solectrias XGI 1500
Solar installers need to find a delicate balance to ensure they are drawing as much power from the systems as possible without overloading the inverters. This usually means that arrays are oversized and inverters are used that can tolerate more power than intended, with the guarantee to back it up.
More and more inverter manufacturers are promoting their ability to use and accept more electricity than previously thought. For example, Yaskawa Solectria assures customers that its reliability tests have proven that its XGI 1500 string inverter can withstand oversizing without breaking, and that its warranty provides peace of mind in the event of a problem. The company has determined that oversizes are especially important for utility-scale plumbers who need to get as close as possible to their allowable export volume for projects to be profitable.
“The ability to reach that limit without doing other things in the system is of immense value to our customers,” said Eric Every, product manager at Yaskawa Solectria.
Because modules are so affordable, adding a few extra strings to a project’s budget is hardly affected to maximize production.
Maximizing the solar energy output in a smaller space is made easier by bifacial modules. Module manufacturers are unable to provide the exact wattage of rear gain that can be expected from these modules as they will vary based on the amount of diffuse light in each particular location. An inverter like the XGI 1500, which can process a lot of additional DC energy without errors, is attractive for such projects.
“With the option of higher charging ratios, our customers can actually take advantage of this backside gain,” said Every.