Increasing Solar Adoption Through Technology

As proud advocates of solar energy, we all desire a higher penetration of the technology in the energy mix of our society. In order to achieve this goal, one must look at different aspects of a solar system to increase its attractiveness. Over the past years, technology and policy improvements have helped make the solar industry safer and more cost effective. Although some advancements are more significant than others (e.g. the ITC extension), it is the sum of all these developments that help shape our industry to become a more compelling energy source. In this article, I would like to focus on one technology improvement that is not only changing the residential market, but also expanding to other sectors— the integration of power optimizers into modules.

A power optimizer is a device connected or integrated into a solar module that enables a DC to DC conversion of the output power. A module with an integrated optimizer is often referred to as a smart module. The physical dimensions, the packaging density, and the module mounting procedures remain the same as a standard module but now benefit from the advantages of an optimizer being installed within the junction box.

The integration at the factory removes any selection requirement consideration from the designer while allowing for the design flexibility of an optimized system. For the installer, the labor benefits range from unpacking of the product, to the fastening and wire management of an external unit. Reducing the number of parts to install obviously reduces the labor time required to complete the roof work, but also reduces the potential for errors, which can be costly when troubleshooting a faulty system. Component costs are also being pressured down. Therefore, when the price of a smart module ends up lower than the sum of its separate components (standard module and external optimizer) the benefits to the installers are undeniable.

Once installed on the roof, the owner can benefit from a wide range of benefits offered by most module-level power electronics (MLPE) technologies. In terms of energy yield, the higher efficiency and panel-level Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) allow for the system to produce at a higher rate. This is particularly noticeable in various shading conditions, with soiling accumulation, over time with power degradation, or simply the inherent mismatching of modules being installed.

Long-term operation and maintenance will also be simplified by wide adoption of MLPE. The panel-level monitoring option offers a clear picture on detailed performance of the array. Maintenance can be accelerated by pinpointing the specific areas that require more attention. At a module level, the jumper bypass in the back of the smart module allows for easy verification of the panel’s un-optimized performance. In the rare event the electronics of the embedded optimizer needed to be replaced, an external unit can easily be added and reconnected to the module and string for resumed power generation.

To conclude, the smart module is improving how systems are being installed, monitored, and maintained. These advances make a difference in the solar industry by helping to ensure safer and more cost-competitive systems, thereby ensuring a brighter future for the environment.

Canadian Solar offers just this type of technology— our Smart Module, the CS6P-255|260|265P-SD. This product (click here to view product information) is an integrated module that features both a Canadian Solar PV module with a SolarEdge power optimizer.