In the following blog, we take you through a short example to illustrate how much SMA’s new free Smart Connected service package is worth to an end customer.

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One of the many benefits of SMA inverters, is their total quality and reliability. Whenever an inverter ceases to operate correctly, it results in increased costs for the system owner. Recognising that even the highest quality inverters might experience problems, SMA decided to introduce a new free service package, Smart Connected. Initially released with the new Sunny Boy 3.0-5.0, Smart Connected is designed to identify and correct problems with the inverter in a more efficient way, thanks to SMA Service taking over the active monitoring of the system. But understanding what this new service is worth to an end customer can be a little bit tricky, so we put together a short example to help you understand the financial value of Smart Connected.

The Scenario

Let’s compare 2 solar systems, one is a standard system with a normal warranty, and the other is an SMA inverter system with Smart Connected. Both systems have identical installation and performance, and have identical self-consumption ratios.

* Feed-in tariff is only paid on energy not self-consumed and exported to the grid

Now let’s assume that for some reason the inverter stops working on the first day of the new billing cycle. This is where Smart Connected really starts to save the system owner money! Because most solar system owners do not actively monitor their system, they typically only know if something has gone wrong when they get their next electricity bill and find they have higher grid charges. So for the standard system, it might take up to 100 days when they get their next bill to realise their system has not been working. But because the Smart Connected system is actively monitored by SMA, it will be back up and running normally in approximately 5 days. The other advantage for an installer is that the Smart Connected service means they will only need to travel to site once, further reducing any potential costs to the end customer.  So how much does the Smart Connected system save their customer?

** Installer needs to travel to site once to establish cause of problem, and then return to site after obtaining a replacement inverter.

Customer Value

Smart Connected can save a system owner many hundreds of dollars. And the best part is it comes free with your new Sunny Boy giving you just another reason to choose a SMA when you make an investment in solar. Smart Connected will also be a part of the coming new member of the Sunny Tripower and Sunny Boy Storage family.

NOTE: The example shown here is for illustrative purposes only, based on the assumptions outlined. Changes to these assumptions would change the projected outcome.

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Digitization is becoming part of life in an ever increasing number of areas — and will even further accelerate the decentralization of energy supply. It is therefore no wonder that the subject is at the top of the agenda of SolarPower Europe, the European photovoltaics trade association. Detlef Beister, Business Development Manager at SMA, is also part of this.

detlefbeisterDetlef, you are a member of the “SolarPower Europe Digitalisation & Solar Task Force.” What is behind this?

SolarPower Europe is the European photovoltaics trade association, and already has over 200 members from all areas of the value chain. There are working groups for various subjects that are currently of particular importance. One of those is the “Digitalisation & Solar Task Force,” which was called into being at the end of 2016, and which is chaired by SMA. I have been participating in the working group since February, and have taken over the lead of one of the deliverables, the ten “Regulatory Asks.” In this, we have formulated what is necessary for policy makers to do in order that the digital transformation of the energy system can be driven forward at pace. We handed these requirements over to the policy makers at the end of June. Prior to this, the “Seven Commitments on Digitalisation” — that is to say the self-imposed obligations of the PV industry for a faster and yet secure digitization — was launched at the Intersolar back in May. These documents carry a good deal of weight because along with SMA, other industry giants, such as ABB, Huawei, Schneider Electric and Siemens, are also represented in the task force.

The working group published the “Digitalisation & Solar Report” at the European Utility Week in Amsterdam at the beginning of October, which is arguably the first in-depth analysis in the world of the opportunities and possibilities for photovoltaics that will arise from digitization. As far as you are concerned, what are the most important findings of the study?

From my point of view, the most important finding is that digitization has already become a part of all points within the PV value chain — from system design, through yield forecasting, the production of the individual system components (keyword Industry 4.0), and the integration of PV systems into intelligent buildings, in subjects such as integration into smart grids, micro grids and peer-to-peer trading, all the way down to operation and maintenance. Digital services represent an unbelievable amount of additional business potential for the photovoltaic industry, for example in the areas of local energy management for increased self-consumption and the aggregation of PV systems for participation in virtual power plants or energy communities. This also shows that SMA, with our strategic objective of developing ourselves into a system and solution provider, has backed exactly the right horse. Indeed, we already feature prominently in the report with two interesting case studies on our ennexOS energy management platform and our Worker Information System.

Digitization and photovoltaics therefore complement each other perfectly. What hurdles are still to be overcome?

There are indeed still a number of hurdles to overcome, which is also why the work of the task force is so important. We have summarized these hurdles in the “Regulatory Asks” that have already been mentioned. The existing regulations were to a large extent created for the classic energy industry model. Indeed, it is noticeable that digitization was never brought up as a serious subject and in part was even considered with skepticism because, for example, it opens up new challenges in terms of security — challenges that we naturally have to face up to. The policy makers must urgently clear these hurdles in areas such as the peer-to-peer electricity trade, the implementation of new, innovative technologies and business models in order that Europe can take on a pioneering role in digitizing the electricity supply. Here in Germany, new barriers could arise out of the “Law on Digitization of the Energy Transition” if we do not pay extremely close attention in the near future.

What are the next steps now for the task force and for SolarPower Europe?

We are planning to hold webinars in December and January, in which we will present the study and our ten „Regulatory Asks“ to the policy makers and regulators based in Brussels and the individual European countries, and discuss these with them. Furthermore, the first “Digital Solar & Storage” event organized by SolarPower Europe will be held in the BMW Welt Exhibition Center in Munich on December 5, with SMA as strategic partner. Representatives from the areas of photovoltaics, storage and digitization will come together at this event with the goal of creating a cross-industry platform for the energy supply, heating and mobility sectors. As far as the task force is concerned, we are in the process of defining the objectives for the coming year because it is clear that the subject of digitization and photovoltaics will also be of great importance to the industry in 2018.

Detlef, thank you for the interview.

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guest post by Venkata Mukundarajan, Enphase India

In less than a year since Enphase established a direct presence in India, we’ve made huge strides with the appointment of new distribution partners, Sun-AP Ecopower and Redington. To top this off, on the first day of Renewable Energy India Expo, we announced our partnership with Waaree Energies, India’s largest Tier 1 solar panel manufacturer whom we will work with to produce an AC solar module (ACM) for the Indian market.

As an Indian national, I am extremely proud that we are bringing Enphase’s world-leading microinverter technology to deliver smarter solar to the Indian market. We’ve called this our Made for India campaign as we believe our microinverters are designed and have been proven to operate for decades in harsh climates, similar to what we experience in India.

So what makes Enphase perfect for India?

Unmatched Reliability through High-Tech Testing Processes

As the first company to commercialise the microinverter back in 2008, we were fortunate to enjoy a few years as the only global microinverter manufacturer, giving us a head start on the development and refinement of our hardware. This advantage grew exponentially once we had a critical mass of microinverters in the field, reporting granular data back to our headquarters in 15 minute increments – this data provided the invaluable feedback loop which continues to inform our hardware engineering team, enabling us to reach the kind of near-perfect reliability we enjoy today. Our testing represents the most rigorous seen in the solar industry, which is due in no small part to our roots in other high-tech industries.

With many years more R&D than any other microinverter on the market and a data pool that surpasses Twitter, Enphase Microinverters are designed and built to stand up to extreme conditions. We test extensively at the component level and our environmental stress tests can run more than a year. Then we do the unit-level testing. Between the two test phases, we literally test thousands of units under high environmental stress conditions (extreme humidity and temperature etc.) before a product is brought to market.

Resilience to Heat

Enphase Microinverters have been engineered and tested to function in the harshest environments expected in a PV installation. As you read this, we have systems operating in some of the harshest conditions on the planet, from Saudi Arabia to Antarctica. We monitor these systems in real time through our Enlighten platform. We know exactly how our microinverters and the systems they power are running, and what conditions they are being subjected to.

From the outset, microinverters generate less heat than string inverters because they have no moving parts and they process about 10% of the power that string inverters do. Enphase Microinverters also come with recommended installation guidelines to allow the required air flow to help keep them cool.

In January 2014, Enphase ran a heat study during one of Australia’s most severe heatwaves in recorded history. Adelaide set a record for extreme temperatures with 12 days of 40°C or above. The previous record of consecutive days over 40°C had stood for 117 years. Melbourne had its hottest 24-hour period, with an average temperature of 35.5°C, and Perth had its hottest-ever night and its second-hottest summer on record.

From the 1st to the 20th of January 2014, data was collected from more than 2,000 Enphase Microinverters across 170 system locations. During this period, fewer than 1% of all Enphase Microinverter internal temperature readings for Australia exceeded 70 degrees. The maximum recorded internal operating temperature across all sites was 79°C. This is well below the rated maximum operating internal temperature of 85°C. No Enphase Microinverter across Australia shut down due to temperature.

To see the results of this study along with data taken from a system on a 45 degree celcius day, click here.

Module Mismatch

It is common knowledge that microinverters provide a significant advantage in shaded conditions over competing string and central inverter systems. Beyond shade, there are a number of other impacts on a solar array that affect the overall performance. Enphase Microinverters minimise losses caused by panel mismatch, degradation, cabling, and external factors like soiling. In full sun or shade, you harvest more energy with Enphase Microinverters.

In string inverter systems, module mismatch leads to system-wide inefficiencies because they are limited to the output of the weakest module in the chain. With Enphase’s distributed architecture, modules operate independently so that no single module can drag down other modules. Soiling caused by debris or, as is India’s challenge, dust and air pollution on one module does not affect the others. In addition, with the Enphase Microinverter System, there is no need to connect modules and inverters with long runs of DC cabling, where energy is lost.

Enphase’s Secret Weapon against India’s Pollution: Burst Mode

Recent articles have shone a light on the effect that India’s air pollution problem is having on solar production, with production dipping by up to 25% in major cities compared to less polluted areas. Panel cleaning will be an ongoing priority and in addition it will be crucial to apply the right technology to stand up to this great challenge.

In low-light conditions, Enphase’s Burst Mode allows panels to come on earlier in the morning and turn off later in the day, which allows the system to maintain highly efficient operations during low-light conditions where other solar systems would stop generating power. Enphase’s Burst Mode patent means it is the only inverter in the world to offer this functionality.

India’s solar installations are expected to grow over four times by the end of 2017. The government of India has aggressive targets for renewable energy and solar has the front seat in the range of clean technologies it has chosen to promote. We are confident about the future of Enphase in India and we will continue to invest in Made for India as we scale our operations to meet the growth we are expecting in the future.

While Elon Musk is waxing lyrical about the Tesla Model 3, a house with solar roof tiles and batteries both in the house and in the car, an innovative group from Eindhoven in the Netherlands have combined all of this into a single offering and produced a solar powered family car that can also be used to supply energy to the grid.

The Stella Vie, claimed to be the most efficient family car ever built, recently featured in the World Solar Challenge, a biennial event which sees solar vehicles travel the 3000 km route from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia. The car competed in the Cruiser category. The 2017 event saw the third running of this class, which was introduced in 2013 when a four-seater ‘family car’ travel over 3000 km with an external energy input of just 64 kWh!  To put this into context, a modern Tesla S (P100D) family car has a 100 kWh battery with a range of around 500 km, although in a very slightly modified Tesla S, a distance of over 1000 km has been achieved.

A report by The Guardian on the event, claimed that these vehicles represented ‘the future’. All of this begs the question as to whether solar powered cars are in our future?In fact, it is possible to buy a part solar powered car today. The new Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid has the option of a solar roof panel, although according to Toyota this adds just 5 km a day to its range. But to open this discussion further requires a deeper look at the numbers.

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Jaguar solar powered concept vehicle (Source: Jaguar)

We could start by assuming that a future solar powered car doesn’t just have a single roof panel, but a surface made largely of a solar material, akin to the Tesla roof tiles on a house. It is conceivable that this extends to the windscreen glass as well. That means for a car such as the Tesla Model S, there is up to 10 m2 of solar panelling. In the USA in June, solar insolation (i.e. the energy arriving from the sun) would be around 7 kWh/m2/day. If the solar material on the vehicle had a conversion efficiency of up to 40% (a leading-edge research result today), then 28 kWh of energy might be collected, but by December this would fall to as little as 8 kWh. These amounts are far in excess of the typical daily needs of the Stella Vie for family use (say 50 km/day, or ~1 kWh), but not so for the Tesla S, with heating, air-conditioning, media, various IT systems and heavier paneling for safety. In winter (50 km in a Tesla S equates to 10 kWh) there is an energy shortfall, although potential generation is in excess of typical daily needs in summer. The balance could be exported to the grid in the summer.

However, in central London, the vehicle would generate very little of its needs in winter (<2 kWh), but should still cover its own requirements in mid-summer (~18 kWh). On an annual basis, it would likely fall short on its needs (~10 kWh/day maximum generation vs. a similar daily requirement).

The numbers indicate that in some geographies, assuming efficiency improvements in both solar PV and the vehicles themselves, a family car that requires no net electrical energy on an annual basis is plausible, although considerable advances in material engineering to integrate solar PV into various surfaces would be required. In other geographies, the balance wouldn’t be as favourable, but the contribution to the annual energy requirement of the vehicle could be substantial.

But this isn’t the end of the story. For the vehicle to collect such an amount of energy it must be parked in the sunshine all day, or be on the road. It would also have to be kept relatively clean. This might be possible in towns or some (treeless) suburbs, but in larger cities with outdoor parking limitations and taller buildings, the energy collection potential could drop substantially. Nevertheless, there would be some contribution when on the road.

Given that Toyota have already started down this track with the Prius, it can’t be too long before others follow. Innovation in solar PV, materials technology and vehicle efficiency could see solar augmentation becoming widespread by 2030, with a global vehicle fleet potentially requiring little to no net energy by the early years of the second half of this century. While this may seem a long way off, even a high deployment scenario for electric vehicles takes until the mid 2050s to completely dislodge internal combustion engine vehicles from the market.

Other scenarios for vehicle development could change this balance. For example, a much smaller fleet of autonomous ride sharing vehicles would still require the same amount of total fleet energy, but with far fewer cars deployed, energy generation would likely be much lower. Nevertheless, the World Solar Challenge, like the Shell eco-Marathon where vehicle efficiency is tested to the limits, points to an interesting future for mobility.

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