For the past decade, the solar energy industry has been focused on reaching grid parity, which occurs when solar energy generates power at a Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) equal to the price of purchasing power from the grid. In many regions around the world and in some states in the U.S., we have already reached and surpassed grid parity. This does not mean that the race towards a lower LCOE has stopped. In fact, the industry is now competing against itself in order to provide more advanced and efficient solar energy solutions. As inverters have a significant impact on LCOE, we believe that a key to driving the advancement of the solar industry is inverter innovation.
Advancements in MLPE
We can see the impact of inverter innovation by looking back at the past few years in which a number of new inverter technologies were introduced that helped to advance the PV market. One particularly important innovation was the introduction of module-level power electronics (MLPE) to inverter topology. By moving functionality to the panel level, this distributed inverter topology unlocked new value that was not previously accessible, such as more energy, high-resolution monitoring, design flexibility, and enhanced safety.
In fact, this inverter advancement has even been called a potential disruptive technology for the PV industry due to its ability to offer value and improve the LCOE of systems. If the past few years are any indication of the future advancement of the PV industry, then the inverter can continue to drive the PV industry forward.
Inside the brain
There are many reasons why the inverter is key to this continued advancement, but the central reason is that the inverter acts as the brain of the system. As the PV system brain, the inverter is responsible for maximizing energy production, smart grid interaction, safety functions, monitoring, storage, smart homes, and more. This means that when inverter technology advances, it not only improves the inverter itself, but it also has the potential to impact all of the other additional functionalities it manages. In comparison, when improvements are made in another component, such as, a panel, the impact of this improvement is typically limited and may not necessarily affect other components in the system. Because inverter progress can help to advance the entire PV system, its improvement is strategic to the PV industry.
Shift to digitization
As the functionality of inverters is expanding, inverters are simultaneously shifting towards digitization. This means that more of the DC to AC conversion processes is happening electronically versus mechanically. By entering the digital age, inverters have a faster trajectory for advancement and can now follow in the footsteps of other technological trends such as, smartphones, computers, and televisions.
SolarEdge has made significant progress in digitizing inverter functionality with its HD-Wave inverter. Not only has this had the immediate effect of increasing efficiency and power density of the inverter, but it will also allow the pace of inverter advancement to significantly increase compared to what we witnessed over the past 20 years.
This means that the responsibility for improving PV systems, mainly comes down to the inverter. So, the question remains, what is the industry doing in order to continue advancing the inverter?
First of all, the regulatory organizations are placing additional demands on the inverter that manufacturers need to meet. Some examples include new safety regulations NEC 2017, revenue grade metering, and smart inverter standards.
From the demand side, homeowners and installers are requiring that inverters provide more value, such as monitoring, efficiency, reliability, building energy automation, and more. Lastly and most importantly, inverter manufacturers, like SolarEdge, are focusing their efforts on providing more innovative solutions to gain a competitive advantage in the market. This healthy competition will allow the inverter to continue to help PV proliferation around the world.
Lior Handelsman is VP of Marketing and Product Strategy, Founder, SolarEdge
— Solar Builder magazine