Does Cheaper Solar Mean We Can Forget Efficiency?

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The ramifications of the falling cost of photovoltaic systems

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Solar energy has sex appeal. If you want to show the world you’re doing something to reduce pollution, you put photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. (PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow.) panels on your roof to generate clean electricity. Even better, you drive a plug-in hybrid or an all-electric car and charge your car’s batteries with your clean solar electricity.

The good news for solar enthusiasts is the cost of installing a solar electric system on your home just keeps falling and falling. Let’s take a look at some data and then ask if it’s time to abandon energy efficiency.

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New PV systems that adapt to different climates — the goal of new Austrian project

Austrian PV solar Tech

We don’t venture into Austrian solar territory much, but a new project is coming together with the mild goal of revolutionizing the entire PV system. No big deal. Dubbed the Infinity project, its aim is to adapt the entire photovoltaic system, including the materials, components and processes involved, to the requirements in different climates and regions.

The project unites five scientific partners and nine leading partners in industry. The project is subsidized by the Climate and Energy Fund.

“Research and development is an important strategic factor in expanding renewable energies and achieving global climate protection goals,” says Technology minister Alois Stöger. “As effective climate policy needs innovative energy technologies, Austrian solar expertise is in demand on the global market. We therefore trust the Infinity project will continue to expand this strong position.”

RELATED: How new solar module technology lifts efficiency, limits price 

The demand for photovoltaic (PV) systems has increased over the past few years, and future growth markets outside the temperate zones in particular, for example desert, (sub)tropical or alpine regions, also intend to use solar to a greater extent for generating electricity. However, there is currently only one standardized PV system for all climate zones. No options are available that can be adapted to different climate or grid conditions in specific applications.

“What we want to achieve in the Austrian lead project is to create the basis for the next generation of PV components, systems and processes. Our research is therefore into adapting both the materials and the whole PV system to different climate conditions and special regional features. In our work, we also take such factors into account as extreme temperatures, sand and instable electrical grids,” says project manager Christina Hirschl from the research center CTR Carinthian Tech Research. “If we are to achieve the energy transition, we need smart PV systems that are long lasting, energy-efficient and also affordable. The project is also aimed at improving climate protection and making companies more competitive at an international level.”

Adaptive systems deliver higher yield

The team of researchers will start off by conducting an in-depth error analysis to identify the mechanisms affecting how various materials, modules and inverters react in different climate zones both individually and as an overall system. They will then use the results gained to take a different approach to designing new, improved, climate-specific PV energy generation systems.

“A special feature of the project is the holistic research method employed along the entire PV value chain – from the PV materials and comonents to module manufacture, PV system installation and maintenance,” Hirschl says. “The scientific findings will be used to develop further process, service and maintenance strategies. Our goal is to create new energy-efficient products and also new services.”

RELATED: The first turn-key home solar energy solution? SunPower explains 

Research is aimed at prolonging service life, reducing system costs and ultimately also yielding more electricity. Lead scientist Michael Schwark from AIT adds: “The various inputs along the value chain will significantly improve the quality of the mathematical-physical models, enabling climate-related aging predictions to be given for all parts of a PV system. Apart from optimizing the overall system, these models will also mean more accurate acceptance and maintenance recommendations for individual climate zones.”

The research work provides an important basis for developing competitive, innovative products, such as flexible materials and PV modules that can be adapted to defined climate conditions as required.

As a whole, it will give the Austrian and European photovoltaics industry the opportunity to secure a competitive edge on the global market in terms of quality and above all establish sustainable research structures with scientific experts.

— Solar Builder magazine

An Introduction to the Duck Curve

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As solar electricity increases, the daily balance of supply and demand is changing dramatically

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You may think there’s no more boring topic than electric utilities. Power plants. Transmission lines. Engineers with flat top haircuts and pocket protectors full of pens in their white short-sleeved shirts.

Well, let me tell you two words that might help make them more interesting: duck curve. If you haven’t heard this term yet, you’re not alone.

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Eaton Releases New NH-Sized PV Fuses

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The new Eaton Bussmann series 1000 volts direct current (Vdc) NH size photovoltaic (PV) solar fuses are specifically designed for protecting and isolating array combiners, re-combiners, disconnects and inverters.

Eaton’s NH PV fuses meet global agency standards, simplifying designs for worldwide markets, and are available in traditional blade and bolt-on versions. The traditional blade version can be used with a fuse block to provide quick, tool-less replacement for easy maintenance. The bolt-on version can be bolted directly to a bus bar, reducing components and assembly time. With a common bolt pattern, the NH PV fuses are designed to easily integrate into a standardized bus bar design, regardless of fuse ampacity.

“Eaton delivers a range of overcurrent protection devices for solar applications that protect valuable balance of system equipment and support uptime,” said Kevin Calzada, product manager, solar fuses, Eaton’s Bussmann Division. “Our latest NH fuses for PV applications maintain Eaton’s industry-leading efficiency and low-operating temperatures.”

With the industry’s highest current density and two available mounting options, the NH PV fuses provide design flexibility in a compact size. Both fuse versions come with system monitoring accessories that provide dual visual indication and optional microswitches (for traditional blade version only) to make it easier to monitor system processes.

To learn more about Eaton’s Bussmann series 1000Vdc NH PV fuses, visit bussmann.com.

— Solar Builder magazine

SunLink Adds Cast-in-Place Foundation Option

SunLink-Ballasted-Ground-Mount-System

A new cast-in-place foundation option marks the expansion of SunLink Corporation’s Ballasted GMS, PV racking system.

This addition, officially launched Feb. 10, leverages off-the-shelf concrete forms and standard construction methods to pour concrete ballasts on site as opposed to the default construction method of shipping large pre-cast concrete ballast blocks to solar installation sites.

“Customers have given our Ballasted GMS product rave reviews for its ease of assembly and versatility,” said Kate Trono, director of product management for SunLink. “However, the one thing that they asked us to continue to work on was the cost and shipping challenges associated with sourcing pre-cast ballasts. Depending on the project location, shipping pre-cast ballasts can run from $12,000 to $32,000 per MW – that is a significant percentage of total installed costs. Though we will still offer our pre-cast foundation option, this new cast-in-place alternative solves that pain point and helps our customers achieve more competitive project pricing – which is our ultimate goal as their partner.”

Cast-in-place foundations have been the preferred solution for the construction industry for decades. With its cast-in-place Ballasted GMS foundation option, SunLink has adapted those proven job site best practices for the solar industry.

The cast-in-place foundations are created with concrete formwork that can be sourced from local suppliers or purchased directly from the company, allowing for flexibility in how and when the ballast is formed. In addition to optimizing foundation installation timelines, the formwork also allows foundations to be cast at varying heights on site to adapt to uneven terrain — resulting in an aesthetically pleasing solar array.

Known for being a superior solution for sites that do not allow ground penetrations, the SunLink Ballasted GMS product has been proven in the field at more than 50 MW of landfill and community solar sites across North America.

For more information about SunLink’s offerings, follow this link.

— Solar Builder magazine