Innovation in the solar industry continues -- seemingly at an accelerated pace. At Solar Power International in October a plethora of new solar products and services have been introduced, all striving to reduce total installation costs. I'm confident this trend will continue as R&D efforts by both large and small companies bear fruit. As long as supply shortages and tariffs don't disrupt our cost structure, these innovations will lead to lower installed costs in 2015 and beyond.
At the top of everyone's list are a raft of "new and improved" solar modules. With few exceptions, these new modules focus on two product characteristics: higher efficiency and lower costs. Average efficiency of the most common 60 cell modules has been steadily improving; now the most cost effective modules are in the 250-270 watt range. Fire sales are taking place for sub-250 watt modules, and some companies (LG in particular) are gaining traction with their premium priced high output 300+ watt modules. The "exceptions" noted above generally relate to improved module mounting capabilities, glass-glass modules and specialty modules.
New inverters and module-level electronics products are the hottest new category. Based on successes of leaders like Enphase, Tigo and SolarEdge, a host of new companies are entering the market. Moreover, new regulatory requirements such as arc fault protection, low voltage support and power factor adjustments create new opportunities for both incumbents and new entrants. Ordinary, non-monitored inverters have become commodities as microinverters, power optimizers and monitoring software become standard. Far-sighted module companies are integrating optimizers and microinverters at their factory, thereby reducing supply chain costs and field labor.
Solar module mounting systems is the next category going through a rapid innovation cycle. For 15 years it has been customary to clip solar panels to long rectangular sections of aluminum rails, then ground all the components individually. Three innovations are making this process obsolete. First, products are available that provided integrated grounding for racking, roof mounts and modules — often with new types of aluminum extrusions that are cheaper and stronger. Second, modules with integrated racking are becoming more commonplace and cost effective. And third, direct attachment roof mounts are now available that allow modules to be secured to the roof without rails. By eliminating the rails, both integrated racking and direct attachment systems reduce aluminum costs and rooftop labor.
In addition to these three categories, a number of new battery storage and installer software services will be rolled out in 2015. For specific details about the hottest new products for 2015, listen up to this week's Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.
About The Energy Show
As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don't have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.
The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we'll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices.
About Your Host
Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.
His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.
Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies. He's been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.
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