Smart Modules: Preparing For The Next Generation Rooftop Solar Projects

Industry Insights
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As the price of PV continues to drop, solar energy becomes an attainable reality for more and more homeowners, businesses and investors.

However, despite compelling economics, some potential buyers are ineligible for solar due to insufficient space or too much shading. Enter smart modules: featuring embedded intelligence, these modules increase system flexibility, so buildings once considered inhospitable to solar can now accommodate a high-performing system. Smart modules also raise performance, increase monitoring capabilities and reduce safety risks. In short, smart modules are proving to be the next generation of solar.

Traditional solar electric systems feature multiple PV modules connected to a central inverter. These modules are connected in series circuits, meaning the system will instinctively lower its output level to that of the worst performing module.

Smart modules integrate high performance mono crystalline or polycrystalline cells with intelligent technologies such as the current-bypass technology of power optimizers. With this additional layer of power electronics in place, smart modules enable the design of systems in configurations not previously possible—multiple module tilts, various orientations, etc. — eliminating the negative effects of shading. Additionally, because the module and smart technologies are shipped as one unit, installers benet from shorter installation times.

Smart modules are rapidly building momentum in the solar industry today, offered through some of the top technology providers. These smart modules offer up to 25 percent more power density and improved part counts, in addition to enhanced performance, flexibility, monitoring and safety. Power-optimizers, such as Tigo Energy’s Smart Module technology, work in tandem with a central inverter to increase output through maximum power point tracking (MPPT). This allows each module to achieve higher yield.

Smart modules are a type of solar panel that has a power optimizer embedded into the solar module at the time of manufacturing. Typically the power optimizer is embedded in the junction box of the solar module. Power optimizers attached to the frame of a solar module, or connected to the photovoltaic circuit through a connector, are not properly considered smart modules.

Smart modules are different from traditional solar panels because the power electronics embedded in the module offers enhanced functionality such as panel-level maximum power point tracking, monitoring, and enhanced safety.

Solar panel installers saw significant growth between 2008 and 2013. Due to that growth many installers had projects that were not "ideal" solar roof tops to work with and had to find solutions to shaded roofs and orientation difficulties. This challenge was initially addressed by the re-popularization of micro-inverters and later the invention of power optimizers.

Solar panel manufacturers partnered with micro-inverter companies to create AC modules and power optimizer companies partnered with module manufacturers to create smart modules. In 2013 many solar panel manufacturers announced and began shipping their smart module solutions.

It is estimated that smart module shipments will grow rapidly with some manufacturers expecting smart modules will account for 30% of their shipments.

Real-time Visibility

When the average person thinks of a solar electric system, they likely envision    a series of panels up on the roof converting sunlight into useable energy. How the system works—and how well it’s working—is largely a mystery. Most system owners and operators have limited visibility into performance, and almost zero ability to interact with their PV technology. For operators overseeing hundreds of systems, this means any performance issue requires the organization to bring an expert on-site for a preliminary examination, and then schedule a second visit to properly address the problem at hand.

Each smart module is equipped with real- time monitoring capabilities, allowing installers and system owners alike to access and analyze performance data through intuitive software. In the case of Upsolar’s smart modules, system owners and operators benefit from Tigo Energy’s intelligence, which enables them to pinpoint and correct issues before they become major problems down the road.  Even homeowners or operators away on vacation can easily monitor a system via a mobile app. With these modules, the moment a project goes online, operators and owners can walk away from the installation with confidence that their system is either performing at its full potential, or offering an immediate alert to performance issues.

Advantages:

• Built-in intelligent cell optimizer IC avoids negative consequences of any type of mismatch within a panel.

• The most flexible solution for any rooftop condition and orientation.

• Elimination of hot spots, which results in minimized panel degradation.

• Best-in-class shade tolerance by performing MPPT on individual cell-strings to maximize energy harvest.

• Ideal for rooftop and solar power plant applications.

• Integrated optimizer mitigates power loss from panel-to-panel mismatch.

• Provides more installation options for various roofs and orientation limitations.

• Module level disconnects provide safety and regulation compliance.

• Allows more modules per string reducing BOS costs and more efficient systems designs.

Featured: The Optimizer Solution By Jinko

The JinkoSmart Optimizer is a revolutionary solution for harvesting the maximum power available from a photovoltaic (PV) array. Like other distributed balance-of system (BOS) architectures, the JinkoSmart Optimizer™ solution extracts energy from each module, virtually eliminating the negative effect of weaker modules on the rest of the PV array. However, JinkoSmart does so with unprecedented efficiency and accuracy, with very few incremental electronic components for maximum reliability and minimum cost.

• With the help of cell optimizer, JinkoSmart can entirely eliminate hotspots, the main source of module failure.

• JinkoSmart corrects differences in module power such as: binning mismatch, shading mismatch, soiling mismatch and aging mismatch. This allows the system output to be increased by up to 20%.

• In a PV system each panel has an individual maximum power point

• Traditional inverter - weakest panel reduces the performance of all panels

• JinkoSmart - each panel produces the maximum energy

• The weakest panel does not affect the performance of the rest of the system

Safety

JinkoSmart's PV safety function de-energizes the system for emergency and /or maintenance situations. This allows you to go up on the roof without exposure to high voltage and it enables emergency personnel to access your roof without any risks. This feature is compliant with new Rapid Shutdown requirements.

SolarEdge Monitoring System

Module-level, string-level and system-wide PV monitoring is enabled by the SolarEdge power optimizer. Performance of each and every PV module is measured and communicated across existing power lines in order to maximize solar power harvesting at all times and reduce maintenance cost and time.

The SolarEdge module monitoring portal allows for enhanced maintenance and yield assurance through module-level performance monitoring, fault detection and automatic alerts localized on a virtual site map for accurate troubleshooting. The monitoring web-based portal can be accessed from any browser or from any Android or iOS (Apple) smart-phone or tablet using the Opera Mobile or Firefox web browsers.

Tigo Monitoring System

Every JinkoSmart module is independently monitored. This means that your system will alert you in real-time if it needs your attention. This powerful monitoring platform streamlines your operations and maintenance and your operational efficiency, helping you to reduce your soft costs of truck rolls, design, maintenance etc.

Smarter Solar, Now and in the Future

It’s no secret that the global solar industry has faced a number of growing pains in recent years, including social and political turmoil, shifting incentives and price com- petition from utilities. Today, smart modules are offering an opportunity for project developers worldwide to combat design challenges and ease consumer uncertainty. Smart modules are driving stakeholders toward a more dynamic and intuitive solar experience—bringing clarity instead of confusion, and enabling high-yield projects on rooftops that previously would have gone undeveloped. Smart modules are a natural t to ease the evolving challenges of a maturing industry, and the ideal solution to spur the next wave of significant market growth.

 

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