As module prices continue to fall to historically low levels, other solar-installation costs have overtaken panels as the primary cost drivers of project expenses.
Fixed-cost items like permitting, interconnection and customer acquisition—just to name a few—play larger roles in project designers’ deliberations about whether paying premiums for the most efficient solutions are worth it.
One more consideration for all solar projects is the ever-shrinking space in which to put arrays, which explains why energy-density has become an area of concentration for new product development.
Energy density is the amount of energy that can be generated by a PV system per unit area over the course of a year. In recent years, the race to maximize energy-density through module efficiencies throttled up quickly.
From May to December 2016, four module manufacturers broke panel efficiency records, Australian researchers reached more than 35 percent efficiency, and NREL pledged to find new materials that could break the theoretical 29-percent maximum efficiency of traditional silicon solar panels.
The race to find new module materials is intriguing, but we won’t achieve the necessary energy-density numbers depending solely on module efficiencies.
Here are the Top 3 technologies that intrigue me (and should intrigue you) to improve your energy density no matter where your project calls home:
- Bifacial solar modules: As the name implies, bifacial modules convert the sun’s energy on the front and the backs of the panels. Some system engineers are salivating at the possibilities these panels could open for installations, including installing modules on a west-facing vertically orientation, exposing both sides to sunlight at the same time.
- Creative racking solutions: When space is a challenge, creativity is crucial. For example, when Standard Solar won a DC Department of General Services (DC DGS) contract to install solar arrays on 30 buildings in Washington D.C., maximizing the energy density on tight roofs became the obsessive concern of our engineering team.
- MLPEs: MLPEs stands for module-level power electronics, which provide high granularity for module power output control, shade tolerance and data monitoring for the asset managers.
Until recently, installers have primarily used MLPEs in shady residential applications. But the best commercial installers are beginning to realize that MPLEs can expand possibilities for array design and placement, which engineers hoping to maximize power production appreciate.
The bottom line is this: If you’re not currently paying attention to energy density, you should be. So stay abreast of developments in this area so you can use them to keep the solar revolution growing.
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