Fronius hosting solar inverter service training at headquarters in June

Servicing a Fronius inverter

String inverter manufacturer Fronius updated its hands-on installer qualification trainings, which now include system design, product applications and communications, while still covering service and onsite warranty repairs. After completing the trainings, installers are certified Fronius Service Providers (FSPs), offering high quality solar installations and field-service.

Fronius Service Providers offer high-quality installations and trusted service, with an image of quality by being Fronius certified and branded. Solar shoppers or system owners can find certified installers easily on the Fronius Solar.web Online Installer Search. As a further incentive for installers, Fronius provides FSP exclusive events and webinars throughout the year.

RELATED: Keys to inverter service: Data granularity, remote updates, customer relations

Fronius believes that field-serviceability of inverters is critical to making solar more reliable and more sustainable. The FSP program eliminates the need for inverter exchanges. Fronius Service Providers are able to service inverters on site. Troubleshooting and repair can be done in one site visit, cutting the number of truck-rolls in half and guaranteeing maximum system uptime as well as satisfied system owners.

The new FSP qualification trainings take place in June at the Fronius USA headquarters in Portage, IN. The trainings include an opportunity to meet with Fronius’ entire staff from Marketing to Technical Support. These are the dates and covered topics:

  • June 6: Fronius Residential Solutions Training
  • June 7: Fronius Installation & Best Practices Training
  • June 8: Fronius Commercial Solutions Training

Register via email at pv-training-usa@fronius.com or at the Fronius website.

Solar installers are welcome to register for either all days of training or for a specific day. Course registrants are to arrange their own travel. The cost of the course includes the training, literature, swag, meals, and a portion of this can be used as a credit towards an FSP kit. The kit is a collection of the most common inverter spare parts. This kit is highly recommended, as it allows the installer to fully utilize the benefits of the FSP program.

— Solar Builder magazine

Keys to inverter service: Data granularity, remote updates, customer relations

Service Provider Training

What support does your chosen inverter include? Fronius Service Provider training, for example, certifies installers to purchase spare parts and field-service inverters to reduce the number of truck-rolls.

Services for solar inverters are improving markedly, from commissioning through replacement, as the flow of panel and string-level data becomes more granular, fueling more sophisticated monitoring systems. From string inverters at a commercial and industrial (C&I) level, to microinverters now dominant in the residential market, manufacturers are embracing dynamic improvements in functionality based on bi-directional communications and firmware adaptability.

“As inverters become more advanced and the best companies advance the market, the distinction between awesome performance and just OK performance is finer than ever,” says Ed Heacox, the general manager of sales and marketing at Chint Power Systems (CPS) America, a commercial inverter manufacturer. “As the variance narrows in product specifications, service becomes a bigger factor than ever.”

Microinverter makers are credited for initially pushing the solar industry data collection standard to a panel-specific level and for providing enough automatic analytics to educate consumers and solve basic performance problems. Now, both micro and string manufacturers are widely including programmable chips and WiFi cards within their inverters that permit periodic upgrades of firmware. And as more frequent passive and active actions in operations and maintenance take place, the benchmarking of performance against manufacturer databases also can optimize predictive functions.

“The main technology to improve service for inverters is communication such as WiFi, which connects the system to the internet and an online monitoring portal,” observes Richard Baldinger, the head of marketing at Fronius. “Through online monitoring like the FroniusSolar.web, users can track the performance of a system and get notified if the system is not performing. Based on state codes and other values, a service truck-roll can be planned.”

RELATED: 2017 Solar Inverter Buyer’s Guide 

Firmware Updates

Two-way communications continue to provide real-time monitoring of micro systems.

“Enphase provides multiple web-based applications for both the installers and homeowners. These applications can be used to verify, in near real-time, that a given system is performing as expected,” says Ilén Zazueta-Hall, the Enphase director of product management for energy management. “Further, solar installers can receive notifications of any significant issues impacting the system, including notifications of when system performance drops below a certain [customizable] threshold.”

But now, firmware is critical to the inverter life cycle. “Firmware is constantly updated, roughly every six months. So being able to refine an inverter is valuable, but not if you have to visit it to do the update,” Heacox says. He notes that this year, CPS is launching remote firmware updates. “We can either give away or provide at a very low cost our Flex Gateway, with ethernet two-way communications. We can do updates with one card supporting dozens of inverters on a site.”

Some installers find microinverters more easily upgradable. “Microinverter monitoring for us has worked so that as the software suit enhances, we have had five or six firmware upgrades at no charge,” says Jeff Mathias, a co-owner of Synergy Solar and Electrical Systems. “I don’t get that with a string inverter company; there is a way to go into the web box to do it, but I don’t.”

SolarEdge inverter

This is a SolarEdge inverter installed on an AllEarth Renewables dual-axis tracker in Grass Valley, Calif. Photo credit: North Coast Solar, Santa Rosa.

Predictive Diagnostics

Failure response has become streamlined thanks to better communications. “If a data monitoring system detects an inverter failure, a technician could arrive on site within 24 to 48 hours with a stock of replacement parts. The repair to the inverter can be done in minimal time in one trip, and the system will resume full power production,” notes Baldinger. “Compare this to a typical scenario where a technician makes a first trip to troubleshoot and determine the exact failure, then orders a replacement. String inverters are often replaced in whole, with wait times of one week typical for the replacement unit to arrive before the technician visits the site again.”

“Microinverters and inverters with optimizers such as SolarEdge make system monitoring and problem diagnosis easier. Receiving an automatic email from Enphase when there is an inverter problem is particularly helpful,” says Brian Hines, the principal at North Coast Solar.

Heacox says that later this year CPS “will roll out remote diagnostics and problem solving, so that we can handle 95 percent of a trouble call from our national support center in Texas.”

Warranty Services Improve

Installers in the past have complained that some inverter makers were slow to replace failed units and that some even insisted on repairing the old one over replacement. That standard is no longer acceptable in the market.

“Before we went to microinverters, we had to go to a site, analyze the string inverter problem and if it was a failure, call the manufacturer and go through their on-telephone de-bugging routine to validate that the unit was bad. Then we’d take it to the shop, put it into box and wait two or three days to a week for the replacement,” Mathias relays. “Now, we just text in an app that we have a bad inverter, and a new one comes in.”

Zazueta-Hall explains: “In cases in which a product is defective, installers are guided through a streamlined return merchandise authorization (RMA) process. Installers can submit a warranty claim or check the status of a pending warranty claim online. Customer support can also authorize an RMA with one call into the support queue to perform remote diagnostics on an inverter. ”

RELATED: LCOE Heroes: How inverters drive down PV levelized cost of energy 

Training Responders

The market has realized that manufacturer training and customer service is integral for inverter maintenance and installer services.

“We offer Fronius Service Provider training, which certifies installers to purchase spare parts [such as PCB boards] and field-service inverters. It also helps reduce the number of truck-rolls in a service case,” Baldinger says.

Inverter design also plays a huge part too because even a well-trained technician working on a complex or cumbersome product is going to run into issues or slowdowns. CPS says it invested in extra engineering and cost into the wire-box and inverter body designs to make them integrated but separable so that when a service event occurs in the inverter body, it can be easily removed and replaced — just four bolts hold the inverter body (top) to the wire-box.

“It takes only 10 minutes to swap the inverter tops for quick uptime recovery,” Heacox says. “It would be several hundred dollars cheaper to make the inverter in one chassis without the separable wire-box, but we know downtime and wasted field service labor and materials can cost much more. We do our best to consider life-cycle service costs when architecting the inverter platform.”

Distributors also play a training roll. “Quality solar distributors can be counted on to provide: short lead times for order fulfillment to installers, in-depth product knowledge and training information,” suggests Jason Higginson, the senior director of marketing for APSystems. “Even if training is offered by the manufacturer, good distributors can often provide basic support and can also coordinate online or live training sessions with a manufacturer for installer customers. Finding a distributor with good relationships with their manufacturers helps to facilitate all the above.”

Microinverter vendors serving the residential market don’t necessarily know where their products are being installed and thus are at a loss to provide support until it is requested. But in the C&I segment, largely equipped with string inverters, the smaller number of devices in field permits more manufacturer-customer familiarity. “In C&I we know where every inverter is going because we go directly to the site ourselves. So we are on a first name basis,” Heacox says. “We also are on a first name basis with our guy in the site region, with the EPC or the developer. So we can directly service the relationship from design to install across full life support.”

Charles W. Thurston is a freelance writer who covers solar energy from Northern California. Reach him at chazwt@gmail.com.

— Solar Builder magazine

Fronius explains streamlined software updates for its inverter lineup

Fronius is really focused on streamlining its software updates these days. Now Fronius customers are able to remotely update the software of inverters over the web. All you need is a Fronius SnapINverter that has an internet connection and the inverter or system is registered on Fronius Solar.web, Fronius’ free monitoring system.

Similar to smartphones and apps, software updates for inverters are released on a regular basis: to adapt to the grid of tomorrow or to add features and new functionalities. Therefore, software updates should be as quick and easy as possible.

Fronius software updatesWith the Remote Update feature, Fronius SnapINverters can now be updated remotely from any web-enabled device – it just takes a few clicks on Fronius Solar.web.

“If you look at current smart devices, software updates triggered by simply pushing a button became a part of our daily lives. With Remote Update, we create the same experience with our inverters”, says Wolfgang Niedrist, President & CEO of Fronius USA.

Fronius strongly believes that every solar system should have monitoring capabilities. Whether you are a system operator with thousands of inverters spread across the country or a homeowner with one inverter, the capabilities offered by the free Fronius Solar.web platform are tremendous. Remote diagnostics and alerts such as proactive email notifications when an inverter is underperforming and state code awareness are just two examples. The ability to view state codes remotely helps determine whether a truck roll is truly necessary or not. Remote Update via Fronius Solar.web eliminates another category of O&M complexity and cost.

RELATED: 2017 Solar Inverter Buyer’s Guide 

Remote Update is available as of now for any Fronius Galvo, Fronius Primo and Fronius Symo inverter with an integrated and web-connected Fronius Datamanager (software version 3.7.4-6 or higher). Fronius SnapINverters manufactured with a serial number greater than 2716xxx are already capable of Remote Update. With older units, the integrated Fronius Datamanager can be updated onsite to make it capable of performing inverter software updates remotely.

— Solar Builder magazine

Details on Fronius Solar.web functionality updates

Fronius Solar Energy recently overhauled its Fronius Solar.web online portal to provide a better experience to monitor and analyze data from their systems. Among the new features available is a remote update function for the inverter software, which the user can initiate at a click of a button. Fronius has also enhanced the reporting tool, meaning it is now possible to track the daily production and consumption figures more accurately than before.

These upgrades are part of Fronius’s 25th anniversary celebration, says Thomas Obermüller, product manager at Fronius International GmbH. “We have decided to mark the occasion by taking our products and solutions for our vision of 24 hours of sun to the next level by unveiling a host of improvements – including to Fronius Solar.web,” he explains. “One of the innovations for this portal is the Remote Inverter Software Update. This allows users to quickly, easily and efficiently update the inverter software at the click of a button, without having to physically go to the system. Time is not the only saving here; the solution is more cost effective too. Simply install software version 3.7.4-6 on the Datamanager to enjoy the convenience of updating your Fronius inverter(s) at any time.

RELATED: Details on Fronius’ new Smart Solution package to mitigate shade, meet codes, more 

New design for greater user-friendliness

Operators can now configure their reports in Solar.web in a new layout. The menu items “Production”, “Energy Balance” and “Subsidy Report for Storage Systems” allow all the important information to be viewed, such as the system’s daily production figures, hourly consumption or the state of charge of the battery.

Users who pay for the Premium account can also customize their reports. “This means that users can choose the time period covered by the report themselves. Furthermore, all the available components and channels in the system are shown and can be selected as desired,” adds Obermüller. The Speicherförderungs and Energy Balance report are free and can therefore be used by non-Premium users too.

Greater clarity and practical warranty extensions

The user can choose to have their system overview displayed in tile-form or in list-form. The latter option is particularly helpful if the user has several systems linked to their Solar.web account at the same time. Product registration is another area to have been modernized, meaning it is now even easier to register an inverter and claim the free warranty incentive. The weather-service function on the overview page shows the current situation at the system’s location, while the forecast helps to better plan the consumption of solar energy. In addition, warranty extensions can also be arranged via Solar.web.

— Solar Builder magazine

Details on Fronius’ new Smart Solution package to mitigate shade, meet codes, more

Fronius told us that it had some big news coming out soon last week in Boston, and that news has arrived. The global inverter brand is debuting its next generation solar system — the Fronius Smart Solution. The goal of this system is to satisfy all residential and commercial system needs: flexible system design, shade mitigation, NEC compliance, high performance and state-of-the art monitoring while keeping the number of components low and installation easy.

fronius smart solution

New approach to MLPE

As solar evolves and new technologies shape the way systems are designed and installed, new functionalities are added and systems become more advanced.

“The Fronius Smart Solution combines the benefits of traditional MLPE such as microinverters or DC optimizers with the ease of installation and cost-effectiveness of string inverters,” explains Wolfgang Niedrist, President & CEO of Fronius USA. “If you look at a typical residential system of 6.5 kW with traditional DC optimizers, you have to install 24 optimizers on the roof plus the inverter. All power electronics you need with the Fronius Smart Solution are just an inverter and a Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box.”

The Fronius Smart Solution is the combination of cell-string optimized modules, the Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box, a Fronius SnapINverter, the optional Fronius Smart Meter and the Fronius Solar.web online monitoring portal.

System breakdown

The next generation of DC optimizers replace the traditional bypass diode in a module with an intelligent chip by US-based semiconductor manufacturer Maxim Integrated. The chip is embedded into the module and acts as an optimizer and MPP tracker, resulting in three independent trackers per module. These modules are installed like any standard module and provide optimization benefits without the hassle of traditional MLPE.

Here was our in-depth look at the cell-string optimized modules.

Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box: For NEC compliance, the easy to install Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box provides the ultimate solution for enhancing rooftop and firefighter safety. Directly connected to the inverter through the same conduit as the DC homeruns, the Fronius solution minimizes the number of components needed and provides ease of installation. A roof top transition box is required for all PV installations in any case, from array wiring in free air to PV power feeds in conduit to the inverter. The Fronius Rapid Shutdown Box merely replaces the typical “dumb” box.

The Fronius SnapINverter line from 1.5 to 24.0 kW is known for its flexible system design, easy and light-weight installation within 15 minutes per inverter. Integrated Wi-Fi, Modbus and DC-disconnect and NEMA 4X protection make the package complete. The inverter line consists of both single and three-phase models, including 208V version up to 15 kW, making the SnapINverters the right choice for any system.

Fronius Smart Meter: If you are facing feed-in limitations for a solar system or if customers would you like to monitor their energy consumption, Fronius offers the Fronius Smart Meter, a bidirectional energy meter. The meter is suitable for various applications, such as dynamic feed-in management. Together with Fronius Solar.web, the Fronius Smart Meter offers a detailed overview of energy consumption within a home or business.

Online system monitoring: The eyes of the Fronius Smart Solution is the online monitoring platform: Solar.web. This is where everything comes together: ensure uptime and performance, run remote software updates, analyze energy consumption and compare it with the solar production to optimize overall energy usage. With integrated Wi-Fi in Fronius SnapINverters, the online monitoring is setup easily via smartphone app – even the system owner can do it.

The Fronius Smart Solution is available now.

— Solar Builder magazine