It seems most of the talk in the solar industry centers on the darling of the industry - solar cells and modules. It's easy to understand why - solar modules collect and covert the sun's radiation into electricity. Solar cell and panels endless headlines about higher efficiency cells, the continual drop in the cost of modules, all contributes to keep these components in the news.
SolarBridge Technologies (SolarBridge), a company out of Austin, Texas, has pushed a key component to solar power plant solution to the head of the line with its patented Pantheon - a frame - attach microinverter solution. When announcing the innovative product, CEO and President Ron Van Dell said, “SolarBridge is leading the charge for an open industry standard in AC modules, and our products will always be consistent with this standard.” In addition, “The frame-attached Pantheon features our signature reliable design and an attachment scheme that enables our partners to easily integrate microinverters onto their modules.”
The concept eliminates the installation of inverters and AC and DC cables and ground wires. The patented system has a “one-click” method that allows the installer to AC cables. Soon, the product design will eliminates the need for a junction box and DC cables on the rear of the module.
Established in Champaign, Illinois in 2004, the company began as Smart Spark Energy Systems (SSES). SSES licensed power conversion patents from the University of Illinois at Champaign- Urbana. The company has 15 patents issued and 21 pending. The technologies primarily encompass power conversion and control technologies between the energy source and the load.
In May 2009, SSES moved its headquarters to Austin, Texas, changed its name to SolarBridge Technologies, and hired a new management team. SolarBridge opened an office in southern China; and, maintains a R&D facility in Champaign, Illinois.
The ACPV Technology
Traditional DC-based solar power systems have many modules feeding into a central inverter usually located near the main distribution panel. Traditional systems require solar panels wired together in series. This wiring method increases the DC power output of the system and route the power to a central or string inverter. The inverter converts direct current (DC) power into alternating (AC) power for residential and commercial buildings. AC power runs appliances, machinery and feeds into the utility grid.
The weakness of a central inverter, soiling, shading or other issues that affect one module reduce the module's power output. It also lowers the total output for other modules making up the string. Mismatching also affects power output. This refers to the varying characteristics of different modules, which cause inefficiencies and lower power output.
Power reductions for string inverters range from 5 to 25 percent. In addition, long cable runs, between solar modules and the inverter, results in lower DC voltage and loss power. According to SolarBridge, these power losses are generally accepted industry wide and required finding other methods to generate more power output.
However, micro-inverters change the basic dynamics of the industry. No longer is it necessary to have a single large inverter. The microinverter takes DC current produced by the module, and converts it into AC before it leaves the module. Property owners have the flexibility to install one or more solar panels. Since their introduction on a wider scale, some of the selling points of micro-inverters have been the product's ease of installation, management
The microinverter's design makes it more reliable than other inverters and micro inverter solutions on the market, which SolarBridge call the “the most failure prone” component in a solar power system. The Pantheon micro inverter does not use optoisolators or electrolytic capacitors.
Installers do not need special certifications or experience wiring hazardous high voltage DC wiring. System installers do not need to have the knowledge of the one at a time wiring process of modules associated with detached microinverters. Not only does it eliminate the needs for specialized skills but also it takes less time to complete a job, enabling contractors to compete more jobs.
Certain site conditions, such as intermittent shading, roof orientation, and other factors often render a site incompatible for traditional solar power systems. The Pantheon microinverter helps improve companies sales conversion rates because the before mentioned site conditions no longer have an impact on the power output of the system.
System owners purchase a power plant that is safer because it predicated on standard AC wiring. The system is scalable allowing for building it out over time. AC generated electricity has a higher voltage; therefore, the power loss is minimized and efficiency conversion increased. SolarBridge estimate savings of 25 percent or more in reduced installation time and costs.
The firm has created partnership with some of the leadingphotovoltaic (PV) module manufacturers, including SunPower Corporation (SunPower) (NASDAQ:SPWRA and SPWRB), Kyocera Solar, Inc. It recently announced a partnership with AU Optronics Corporation (NYSE: AUO; TAIEX: 2409).
AUO will integrate the Pantheon microinverter with its AUO AC Unison solar panel. AUO will sell the modules through its distributors. What makes this partnership unique is the industry's first 25-year warranty on a module integrated with a microinverter. Ron Van Dell stated, “The advantages of native AC systems over DC-based systems have been known for some time and can now be fully realized.” He went on to say: “SolarBridge is proud to enable this ground-breaking solution with such an impressive combination of features.”