New PV module testing guidelines published by CSA Group

sunpower modules (2)

Photo of Sunpower’s new testing facility

North American testing, certification and standards development organization CSA Group sent word about the development of C450 – currently available as an Express Document (EXP450) – new guidelines that help to address the lack of uniform testing requirements in the Photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturing industry.

To best ensure the level of quality required for PV modules to last to an upward of 20 years, manufacturers have often had to rely on their own set of protocols. This lack of a uniform set of requirements in the industry often creates ambiguity and can lead to decreased functionality, greater costs for manufacturers and a lack of consumer confidence.

CSA Group addressed these significant issues by facilitating the development of C450 – Photovoltaic (PV) Module Testing Protocol for Quality Assurance Programs which consolidates all of the protocols into one comprehensive guide. CSA Group is actively working on gaining an ANSI standard (C450) for the testing protocol, to demonstrate further consensus into the need and importance of such a program.

Replacing multiple protocols with one test brings significant benefits to manufacturers including: reduced costs; ease in comparing data; and potential reduction in test backlogs. In addition, the document is designed to be flexible and can be quickly updated as new test methods are developed and validated, so any advances in PV testing technology can quickly be incorporated.

C450 was developed using a bi-national committee of stakeholder experts – representing manufacturers, testing bodies, research firms and financiers from both the United States and Canada. It establishes testing requirements based on industry best practices, helps identify potential problems with new manufacturing equipment and facilities and provides data for ongoing quality monitoring programs after validation testing.

CSA Group’s testing capabilities are designed to provide full scope testing of PV modules to latest testing protocols. Testing programs based on C450 are offered through in its state-of-the-art solar labs in Albuquerque, NM and Kunshan, China.

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Details on SunPower’s new Silicon Valley production line for HE solar modules

Solar technology design, manufacturing and installation methods have come a long way in just 20 years, and as a trailblazing solar energy company, SunPower has witnessed the trajectory first-hand. Globally, there is now 305 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity, up from around 50 GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.

Innovation is central to SunPower’s DNA, and with years of experience, researchers have been emboldened to create new manufacturing technologies and processes while continuing to break solar panel efficiency records that fuel creative solar applications – from solar power racecars to airplanes. The nucleus of SunPower’s technological solar panel expertise is headquartered in San Jose, Calif., on the SunPower Campus.

Inside the new production line

sunpower modules

This summer, SunPower engineers began producing the company’s latest generation of solar cells in a pilot production line installed in the heart of Silicon Valley. The research facility, which runs from silicon to panel, utilizes a revolutionary manufacturing approach. The cells extend on the leading X-Series technology which currently achieves a record 25 percent efficiency in mass production, further positioning SunPower on the cutting edge of innovation. The line, which has begun production, will ultimately ramp to producing cells and panels used in both residential and commercial applications. First planned customers include school districts interested in carport applications and residential rooftops. Construction and installation is slated for later this year.

sunpower modules

SunPower has a long history of developing and ramping world-record breaking technologies in California and is investing even further to make solar cost-competitive with all U.S. power sources. The SunPower® Signature™ Black solar panels, which are researched, developed, and now also produced at SunPower’s research facility, are being extensively tested to ensure it is the world’s most reliable product, backed by SunPower’s industry-leading 25-year Combined Power and Product Warranty.

sunpower PV modules

The new pilot manufacturing location will enhance SunPower’s ability to quickly and cost-effectively scale and supply panels to solar installations at homes, businesses and schools throughout the growing U.S. solar market.

Silicon Valley Research Facility Quick Facts

  • Over 100 people on-site at the research facility, arguably employing the world’s best collection of solar experts.
  • Approximately $25 million invested in the facility within the past 12 months, demonstrating the commitment to innovation at the site.
  • Over 30 parts suppliers and manufacturers, which have headquarters in 33 U.S. cities across nine states.
  • Research facility equipment includes several high-volume production-sized manufacturing tools and automation, and specialized testing equipment, sourced from Boulder, Colo., Hudsonville, Mich., and various parts of California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Illinois and elsewhere.

LG Electronics releases high efficiency NeON solar panels for commercial, utility markets

— Solar Builder magazine

Analyst: ‘Anyone’ can get into solar module manufacturing

solar module manufacturing

With so much talk about the global module supply these days, and the merits of Suniva’s petition for domestic trade protection, this perspective from investor website Seeking Alpha is worth noting. The impetus for the post is Poland-based plastics manufacturer Hanplast jumping into solar panel manufacturing with a 100-MW panel production line.

“Any” industrial firm with manufacturing and sales expertise and access to capital could do the same.

This is not to diminish Hanplast’s entry into the solar industry. The firm started laying the groundwork in 2012, and has a joint venture with an EPC firm, a pipeline of solar customers, and a supplier relationship with Ikea that could become a marketing relationship.

As the Hanplast story makes clear, the advantages of incumbents such as First Solar (FSLR) and Jinko Solar (JKS) over new entrants are not insurmountable.

What are the implications of “anyone” being able to jump into solar module manufacturing?  Read the whole perspective here.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar tracking system advances: What’s the impact over the life of a PV plant?

Solar tracker photo 1

The goal of a solar tracking system is to boost the lifetime energy production of a given site, somewhere between 20 to 30 percent over a 30-year period. But this is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” proposition. Today’s tracker systems are more advanced than ever before, but they require an operations and maintenance (O&M) plan that’s just as sophisticated, if not more.

“The performance analytics of a site will become increasingly defined by O&M activities over a longer time span, as costs associated with system failure and maintenance, labor and transport are compounded,” says Denise Hugo, director of marketing with Array Technologies Inc.

If your O&M planning starts after the project is in the ground, which can happen with today’s time pressures, it is already too late. Reliable PV tracker performance starts with specing and designing the right system to match the project.

Intelligent Design

A system is only as good as its ability to exist in its environment. Beyond the obvious structural necessities required of any mounting system, tracking functionality can both improve and further complicate the plan for withstanding the elements. Some improvements are simple, like tilting opposite rows toward each other to clean two dusty rows in one pass. Others come from the sophistication of the software.

“We have seen a trend toward greater reliability in the face of the increasing intensity and frequency of weather events,” Hugo says. Array, for example, incorporated a torsion limiter in its centralized DuraTrack HZ v3, which naturally improves the stability of the system during wind events.

Array Technologies DuraTrack

“When a heavy wind occurs and wind speeds approach record highs, tracking systems can risk catastrophic failure. The best rule of thumb is to design the tracker system to withstand the full site specified wind speeds at any tilt angle, instead of relying on risky stow strategies.”

Separate UPS [uninterruptible power supply] systems proved to be problematic in early tracking days, which inspired tracker manufacturers to integrate backup power into the trackers themselves or eliminate the need for backup power entirely.

Whether a site’s climate patterns evolve over time, or experience a sudden aberrational event, tracking systems can adjust. SunLink says meteorological stations are integral to intelligent tracking systems.

“The data from these stations can be used to meet ongoing financing and operational requirements,” says Kate Trono, VP of products at SunLink.

More Motors or More Maintenance?

But as my cranky mechanic dad would say when car manufacturers would improve anything (like, going from crank windows to power windows), more sophistication can also mean “more stuff that’s going to break.” Trackers need motors and power sources, which introduce additional points of failure. The answer from tracker manufacturers is to minimize as many of those variables as possible, but which variables specifically depends on the approach of the manufacturer.

Array, a leading supplier of centralized drive tracker systems, believes in minimizing the number of motors and other high-maintenance parts that are needed as well as drawing power from the grid instead of relying on batteries.

“We use the minimum amount of electrical components required for control at each motor,” Hugo says. “Simply put, less moving parts make for fewer problems. By removing the number of smaller, less reliable motorized components and condensing this into a flexibly linked centralized single-axis tracker architecture, we have significantly improved uptime and dramatically lowered O&M costs.”

Movement is also taxing on all of a system’s components, and maintaining hardware is tedious and costly. Some tracker systems may require crews to regularly check the torque on screws or lubricate joints, which can add thousands of hours to an annual O&M budget. NEXTracker, currently the market share leader in global tracker deployments according to GTM Research, says a key in minimizing maintenance needs here is valuing mechanical tension over torqueing.

“Torqueing is by nature inexact because of the many factors that can affect friction — from surface texture to debris, rust and humidity,” says Dan Shugar, CEO of NEXTracker. “By contrast, tension involves the use of hydraulic tools to stretch screws and swage or fasten bolts to a structure. In fact, the swaging of a lockbolt is five times stronger than its nut-and-bolt counterpart fastening system. Regular nuts and bolts have a gap, which can cause loosening by vibration. System hardware that does not require torqueing but instead relies on the tension between components will reduce the need for manual checks.”

Shugar believes the key question to ask when evaluating single-axis trackers is this: Could the failure of any individual hardware component threaten the system’s overall production?

“In the case of a decentralized SAT, for example, each row’s independent motor is powered by its own dedicated solar panel (with integrated battery backup), making external power cables obsolete. This reduces the risk of asset downtime since each row is essentially its own independent system. Having advanced individual, self-powered motors control each row increases the overall resiliency of the solar plant by eliminating the risk of malfunctions that can lead to downtime for a larger portion of the installed capacity.”

Trono says decentralized trackers have gained momentum because they are actually simpler to maintain. Downtime is also minimized by holding spares, which is made possible by highly modular systems.

“No special tools or expertise is required to swap out a motor, for example, and it’s not necessary to take an entire linked-row tracker offline,” she says.

Distributed trackers also streamline engineering between the EPC and the mounting system provider, which can result in meaningful savings in soft costs.

“Consider how self-powered, wireless systems eliminate the back and forth and inevitable drawing revisions concerning connection points, conduit, etc. to each tracker,” Trono says. “Furthermore, since each tracker row is independent, they’re easy to add and remove from a layout. Changes to inverter locations and access roads stay simple rather than cascading through the layout departments of multiple companies.”

“The appropriate tracker choice, one with robust components and minimized failure points, will guarantee the best performance over time,” Hugo says. “With the increased efficiency of other BOS components, such as the inverters, highly reliable tracked projects can actually incur less total O&M costs compared to fixed-tilt.”

Data is the future

While my dad had a point — that new advances in technology create new issues — what he didn’t see was the extended benefits of improved performance. This is where data changes the game in O&M and the lifetime value of a tracking system. Smart devices and the Internet of Things means even the largest solar plants can be monitored down to the component level.

“Data is essential to deploying O&M resources efficiently,” Trono says. “Row-level tracker intelligence complements other data systems to give a complete picture of system performance.”

SunLink

There are always outlier incidents that require immediate analysis to determine if action is required. Having access to minute-by-minute tracker performance data helps system owners and their O&M partners understand when and where to place maintenance resources to manage assets effectively while keeping down LCOE. The correct course of action, though, can only come from setting up a software and O&M strategy that interprets the data correctly.

“The data that this constant monitoring produces can become overwhelming for system owners,” Shugar says. “To understand the true implications of system issues, an intelligent cloud-based O&M strategy must be developed that weighs the cost of truck rolls against possible impacts to system performance and the value of the energy produced. Just collecting data doesn’t reduce O&M costs. It’s how intelligent tracking systems and asset managers use that data that reduces truck rolls and increases long-term ROI.”

And this is the note to end on because the biggest strides to be made in solar tracker O&M going forward will be made in data and control.

“As an industry, we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to harnessing the power of integrated data and control systems,” Trono says. “Unfortunately, many data systems are siloed because of security concerns or integration challenges. In the future, we will see advanced control systems that can be used to improve the performance and future product design of both tracking and fixed-tilt systems.”

Chris Crowell is managing editor of Solar Builder.


Tracker System Profiles

DuraTrack HZ v3DuraTrack HZ v3

Array Technologies’ tracker architecture is designed to withstand the elements, not to stow. Unlike trackers that rely on active stow to attempt to survive inclement weather, the DuraTrack HZ v3 is designed to reliably handle the full site loads at any tracker angle. Array’s tracker incorporates a mechanical load mitigation system based on a unique torsion limiter gear and redundant mechanical stops. The system is automatic and doesn’t require power backup, wiring, anemometers, controllers or regularly scheduled maintenance to function, which eliminates backup systems, potential failure points and a ton of maintenance.

How does it save time and cost?

Array Technologies’ trackers are designed to deliver the lowest cost of ownership and the highest value, forged from decades of experience. DuraTrack HZ v3’s streamlined design lowers installation and O&M costs. It is built with minimal failure points and zero scheduled maintenance over a 30-year lifespan.

NX Horizon

NX Horizon

Powered by NEXTracker’s self-powered motor drive, each row of the NX Horizon system can now be built with significantly less steel and can be optimized for wider rotation angles. As a result, customers will maximize yield, pay less for O&M and reduce the impact on the environment significantly. NEXTracker designed a mechanically balanced system that has no overturning moment at the core of the NX Horizon tracker. This allows NEXTracker to bring down the number of piers needed for one row of solar panels by up to one third.

How does it save time and cost?

NEXTracker’s NX Horizon tracker needs less steel than conventional trackers, allowing for quicker installation. Customers won’t need drive shafts or extra cabling to power the trackers, speeding the process up even further. NX Horizon is self-grounded, so customers won’t have to pay costs and labor for installing grounding washers, braided straps, bare copper wire and grounding rods. Zero welding is required. NEXTracker’s patented fasteners make mounting the panels quick and easy.

TechTrack DistributedTechTrack Distributed

One of the most popular features of SunLink’s TechTrack Distributed is the balanced row bearing design or “virtual pivot.” The bearings arrive at the jobsite preassembled, and the installation team can quickly and easily bolt the assemblies to the top of the posts. The bearings then form a cradle in which to rest the torque tubes — the heaviest component in the system — during their installation. Plus, at every stage of racking assembly and module installation, the system remains balanced, eliminating the need to take precautions to restrain it from swinging. The most innovative feature of the TechTrack is Dynamic Stabilization. The design utilizes an active, sensor-enabled component to change the damping and stiffness of the structure in response to real-time environmental conditions. This dynamic design dramatically enhances load management and reduces required steel.

How does it save time and cost?

TechTrack Distributed has no gaps at the bearings or splices, which can add up to several feet on each tracker. Instead it enables clean, continuous tables of 90 modules with one small gap at each slew drive. TechTrack Distributed packs more power into a given area, maximizing the potential of the site. In addition to generous installation tolerances and the flexibility of unlinked rows, TechTrack Distributed is designed to contour with North-South changes in grade of up to 2 percent post-to-post. For example, on a site that would have required extensive grading or very long and heavy posts to keep the array flat, TechTrack has enough flexibility built in to eliminate those costs.

— Solar Builder magazine

Panasonic names its first group of Premium Solar Installers

Panasonic solar solutions

Several authorized installers of Panasonic’s HIT solar modules were just promoted to the exclusive “Premium Installer” status. Panasonic unveiled this program last year to provide valuable assets to partners who meet Panasonic’s high standard of excellence.

“The growth of Panasonic HIT modules across North America has allowed us to partner with several exemplary solar panel installers who share the same dedication to quality customer service and superior product performance as we do,” said Mukesh Sethi, Group Manager of the Solar Division of Panasonic Corporation North America. “We are thrilled to offer additional benefits to these valued partners and we look forward to working with them for years to come as we expand our presence in the North American residential solar market.”

Those partners are… (drum roll, please)…

• Sullivan Solar Power – San Diego, CA
• LA Solar Group, Inc. – Van Nuys, CA
• Westhaven Solar – Santa Cruz, CA
• Sierra Pacific Home & Comfort – Rancho Cordova, CA
• Diablo Solar – Martinez, CA
• RevoluSun – Burlington, MA
• SUNation – Ronkonkoma, NY
• SunRay Solar – Concord, NH
• NJ Solar Power – Bayville, NJ

What’s a premium installer?

Panasonic’s Solar Installer program is comprised of “Authorized” and “Premium” installers. Premium installers are those companies that have completed a minimum requirement of HIT module installations and have met an annual wattage target. These installers also promote Panasonic as their primary brand of solar modules, and they receive a range of benefits from Panasonic to enhance their offerings to customers.

Premium installers will be part of continuous efforts with Panasonic to promote the HIT brand among the installers’ area of operation. They will receive leads generated through Panasonic’s website, where the installer will be listed as premium. Premium installers are also the beneficiary of cooperative marketing funds provided by Panasonic, at twice the level of funds provided for Authorized Installers, to help grow their business and attract even more customers.

Panasonic will aim to expand the reach of the Solar Installer program and bring industry leading companies into these mutually beneficial partnerships.

— Solar Builder magazine