Solar coaster news roundup: SolarCity layoffs, SunPower exits utility-scale, Enphase in trouble?

solar industry layoffs

The solar installer base has strengthened across the country, but the largest companies still loom largest. When they sneeze, the industry catches a cold. Here are some of the latest comings and goings at the top of the market following first-half earnings calls.

SolarCity cut backs

Tesla closed a dozen solar installation facilities around the country as part of a round of layoffs this summer, according to Reuters, in California, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Arizona, and Delaware. The installation facility closures leave the company with about 60 solar installation facilities nationwide. The laid off workforce includes installers, telemarketers, and customer service personnel. Tesla is also pulling out of its Home Depot deal.

Does this spell trouble for SolarCity / Tesla? Well, not necessarily. The company is saying this is part of its reorganization efforts after acquiring SolarCity last year – the closings are all SolarCity-specific locations. Since the acquisition, Tesla has been streamlining and combining more of the two companies’ portfolios.

SunPower leaves utility-scale, Enphase acquires microinveter business

The SunPower fit in the utility-scale market never made a ton of sense, and with PPA prices falling as far as they have, SunPower announced it was leaving that space to focus on residential and commercial and industrial projects, with an eye on growth in both storage and services.

“We see the North American distributed generation market really evolving over the next two years, from just solar, to solar-plus-storage, then eventually to solar-plus-storage-plus-services,” said CEO Tom Werner.

The company also sold its microinverter business to Enphase Energy, Inc. for a total of $25 million in cash. This is going to boost the AC Modules market with SunPower’s Equinox Home Solar System now coming with a custom line of Enphase’s IQ microinverters.

“We are excited to close the acquisition of SunPower’s microinverter business ahead of plan,” said Badri Kothandaraman, president and CEO of Enphase Energy. “We now expect volume shipments of IQ 7XS microinverters in the fourth quarter of 2018 and an acceleration of the ramp throughout 2019. The business is on track to achieve its full revenue and gross margin potential. ACM is a significant component of our profitable top line growth strategy. We look forward to being a strong innovation partner for SunPower.”

Speaking of Enphase…

Prescience Point Capital Management, a private investment manager that focuses on investigations of public companies, published a negative follow-up report to support its short position on Enphase. Since the release of its initial report on Enphase, Prescience Point has identified numerous additional red flags which further call into question the reliability of the company’s financial statements. Here are the bullets from the report:

  • Our analysis of ENPH’s Q2’18 results indicates further doubt on the reliability of its financial statements.
  • Management tried to explain away some of the red flags highlighted in our Initiation Report; however, management’s explanations in some cases conflict with statements previously made on the record and in other cases defy logic.
  • Despite our doubts about the reliability of its accounting, ENPH still missed Q2 consensus estimates and whiffed on guidance. The 12.9% and 8.9% YoY decline in ENPH’s Q2’18 inverter volume and adjusted revenue, respectively, indicate that its business is deteriorating at a faster pace than we initially thought.
  • According to sources, former SunEdison CEO Ahmad Chatila is currently working for ENPH. ENPH appears to have adopted many of the same practices which ultimately led to SUNE’s downfall.
  • Prescience Point reiterates our estimate that Enphase stock is worth ~$1/share on a fundamental basis, implying 80% downside.

— Solar Builder magazine

Seaward updates PV testing products with higher resolution I-V curve, more

PV200 Complete Kit

Solar test equipment manufacturer Seaward Group released an updated version of its solar PV test equipment with new features to improve functionality and boost performance and precision.

The biggest updated in the PV200/210 Complete Kit  is a new I-V curve algorithm designed to produce higher resolution results. Users will also find new messages that indicate if there has been a problem with the test – limiting occurrences of invalid tests and saving time on site. Even better, combiner box text leads and a mounting bracket are now included with every kit as standard – previously users had to purchase these separately.

RELATED: How to design a perfect solar system — then sell it — with Aurora Solar COO

“We had a fantastic response to the original PV200 and 210 devices – which provide an intuitive and cost-effective way to measure the I-V curve of PV modules and strings,” said Michael Middlemast, category manager at Seaward, said. “We’ve listened carefully to user feedback to implement these latest updates. The improved level of accuracy makes the devices even more efficient to use, limiting downtime and increasing energy production.”

Seaward, which unveiled the latest devices at last month’s Intersolar North America, also announced updates to the PV200/210’s software, SolarCert Elements V2. The latest version of the software now simply called SolarCert, enhances the I-V curve reporting function, allowing users to quickly and easily generate a report for thousands of strings.

— Solar Builder magazine

Tilt in Action: Meet the Fourth Generation Tracker from AllEarth Renewables 

Not all tracking systems need acres of land. All Earth Renewables offers an alternative to rooftops for those doing residential and small C&I work. Now on its Generation 4 Solar Tracker, AllEarth is building on the strengths and history of the first three generations. Here is what’s changed:

Structure

Made from a single-piece steel tubular axle for a sleeker look and lower part count, the biggest change is in the move from hydraulics to electrical motion actuators for tilt and yaw. “This eliminates dealing with hydraulic fluid,” according to mechanical engineer Tim Hoopes. “The electrically driven Planetary Gear Motors have a helical first stage to minimize noise for smooth and quiet operation.”

For yaw, power to the motor is ramped up and down by a pulse width modulation (PWM) algorithm in the control system to minimize impact loading for smooth operation and long life. Hoopes says this is also more energy efficient with all controls and operation using less than 1 percent of the energy production.

A custom linear actuator is used to achieve the tilt motion. The actuator design uses a large diameter ACME threaded rod for column strength.

RELATED: Why solar is a ray of hope for struggling retail industry

“We have married the strength of the hydraulic cylinder with the reliability of electric drives,” Hoopes says. “The motor is the same as the yaw system for a low part count, and a tilt feedback sensor allows for greater positional accuracy.”

Gen 4 also has continuous operation during a grid power outage. It will always go into wind hold (high wind speed shutdown where the tracker goes flat to survive hurricane force winds) since all controls are run off the 24-volt DC battery backup. The batteries are charged from the tracker PV modules with redundant chargers on two PV strings.

The inverter is mounted lower down on the mast for improved accessibility and wiring. Gen 4 also allows installation of the inverter in locations away from the tracker, which is cool when using a larger three-phase string inverter for combining two to three trackers.

Software

For Generation 3, AllEarth Renewables used a modular approach on the circuit board designs for easier installation and removal in the unlikely event of a board failure. According to Seth Maciejowski, embedded systems engineer, on the internet gateway they use a “call in only” architecture that makes installation on most customers’ networks simple and avoids complicated TCP/IP configuration.

“The fourth generation tracker integrates the communications functions into the tracker using cellular and WiFi technology to put more performance and debugging information into the hands of customers and dealers, and it more closely ties systems to our BRIGHT solar monitoring solution,” Maciejowski says. “We’ve moved to a quieter electric drive system for both yaw and tilt actuators to provide variable speed operation and battery backup for grid outages and off grid applications. Through proprietary hardware, we are able to measure DC string power directly, which will be included in the data stream provided to the BRIGHT solar monitoring solution.”

— Solar Builder magazine

This 3 in 1 Roof boosts solar cell efficiency with new approach to surface temperature management

Slate solar 3 in one roof

Black or blue silicone solar cells have average efficiency ratings of around 22 percent in test settings, often with a range of 15 to 17 percent in real-world conditions during a course of the day. The creators of the new 3 in 1 Roof system think they have a better solution, at least when it comes to mitigating efficiency loses caused by high temperatures.

The 3 in 1 Roof

3 IN 1 ROOF is designed for the roofer by a roofing contractor located in South Florida. After hurricane Wilma, the contractor completed several hundred roofing jobs where he analyzed why traditional tiles failed under such extreme weather conditions and corrected those flaws in his design of the 3 IN 1 ROOF product.

3 IN 1 ROOF install much, much faster than traditional tiles so roofers earn more annual profits without increasing personnel. 3 IN 1 ROOF will not break or crack under foot because its underside patented wedge shape design eliminates potential fractures when too much pressure is applied. Also every horizontal and vertical row installs perfectly straight without chalking lines.

How it reduces temperature

For every 20 degrees, the surface temperature of a traditional roof rises above 120 degrees, the solar functionality decreases by 5 percent. Therefore when common roof products are at their hottest, a solar panel’s efficiency is at its lowest. Plus, asphalt, concrete and metal takes many hours to heat up, and the same amount of time to cool down or even longer if the attic is poorly ventilated.

RELATED: Silicon heterojunction solar cell technology moves beyond the lab

The secret sauce of the 3 in 1 Roof system is two amalgamates. The 3 IN 1 ROOF embodiment is comprised of heat-resistant closed cell foam, and it’s coated with a durable Geopolymer that increases in temperature only about 12 degrees above ambient. As the ambient rises and falls, so does the surface temperature of the 3 in 1 Roof and at near simultaneous frequencies. Therefore, unless summer temperatures exceed over 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the 3 in 1 Roof system’s solar module will always yield maximum efficiency.

Through in-house testing, the company shows that the 3 in 1 Roof system is “as efficient” as solar panels between the morning and afternoon hours. But after 3 p.m., the difference in performance is dramatic. On an 88 to 90 degree day, test data reveals beyond mid-afternoon about 23% more energy is generated by the 3 IN 1 ROOF, because traditional roofing has collected and amassed so much heat from the sun, it reaches surface temperatures well over 150 degrees. When one takes into account around 4-5 hours of advanced power creation, it mathematically boosts the 3 IN 1 ROOF system’s over all efficiency rating to 17 to 19 percent.

3 in 1 Roof features a highly UV resistant topcoat that keeps its surface temperature slightly above ambient temperatures. Also our durable foam embodiment prevents heat transference prolonging substrate life expectancy by approximately 300%, while it keeps attics cool saving up to 38% on BTU consumption. That means reduced monthly kilowatt needs lending lower fuel bills and most important, a lesser amount of solar cells needed to power the house, allowing consumers to reduce before they produce

In addition, its SPF-like foam character blocks all solar gains from entering into the attic area, lending day-long cool substrates, decking and garrets, virtually eliminating heat flowback.

What is heat flowback and why eliminate it?

Solar gains into an attic causes all sorts of humidity issues fundamentally negative to any structure, including but not limited to; dry-rot, condensation, mold and everything that’s related to moisture plus heat. Flowback is when attics get so hot, they’re virtually structural incubators. Hot air prevents the wood decking it contacts from cooling down while the traditional roofing cools over night, thus prolonging the roof’s ability to equalize ambient temperature.

All these dilemmas are not only problematic with traditional roofing systems, they’re also drawbacks for each and every integrated solar tile and integrated solar shingles system, but not for the 3 in 1.

— Solar Builder magazine

Fraunhofer Center vouches for AE Solar’s hot-spot free solar module design

Hot-spots remain an issue for various module types and present long-term issues for owners of older PV systems. The term hot-spot refers to the excessive heating in an area of a solar panel — a raise in temperature that may result from a drop in the output of electric current in one or more cells of a string. The drop in output occurs from shading, dirt, dust, snow, and manufacturing defects.

But the R&D team at AE Solar has solved the problem with a true hot-spot free module. The Hot-Spot Free Modules developed by AE Solar use bypass diodes to eliminate the development of hot-spots and thus the damages and risks associated.

The temperature of Hot-Spot cells within AE Smart Hot-Sport Free Modules does not exceed 85°C. This temperature management eliminates material hazard, the safety of the module and its surroundings. Available from 260W to 350W range, the AE Smart Hot-Spot Free Modules offer up to 30% more power output compared to standard PV Modules thanks to their improved efficiency. The module was tested by Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics and the results showed the highest efficiency at real conditions with resistance to shading.

RELATED: Modules and integration: Four reasons why AC, smart modules are on the rise

This added efficiency translates into less modules needed and less space required for installation. Space Saving for PV plants by using Smart Modules compared to standard “non-smart” modules Temperature of cells does not exceed operating temperature of PV modules. No reduction of PV module stability and no fire risk from hot-spots.

In a standard module, the impact of shading on a single cell affects a whole string, while an AE SOLAR SMART
MODULE with HOT-SPOT FREE technology loses the output of only one single cell during the shading.

The video above explains the concept in more detail.

— Solar Builder magazine