Smart PV a step closer? How about it, manufacturers… | RenewEconomy

Smart PV a step closer? How about it, manufacturers…

A new technology means that smart PV is a step closer to reality, but are the manufacturers up to the challenge?


Last week I posted on the release of the Electric Imp, an exciting new device that could well revolutionise data collection and communications in all manner of devices.

The story created a lot of interest and during those conversations I was reminded of a product launch I was involved in almost 10 years ago, which was actually built with Electric Imp in mind; it just didn’t exist yet.

At the time I was working for BP Solar, whic launched a new 125W solar module that for the first time included an integrated circuit board.

The primary driver was to allow the diodes (normally mounted in the J Box) to be surface mounted. The benefits were multiple; the heat dissipation was improved, which extended life, higher quality modern components could be used, which reduced losses and of course the whole thing was designed to be more readily assembled in high volumes and thus reduce cost.

The science, testing and warranty results spoke for themselves. It worked well, failures were virtually non existent and it was innovative.

However, some of the geniuses who helped devise this had another ambition; to be ready for integrated smart devices – like the Electric Imp.

In the massive variety of markets that we serviced (before the company was crushed and all the geniuses moved on) we saw enormous potential for solving issues with smart devices such as:

* integrating data collection devices at the module level

* integrating anti theft controls (serialised coding that prevented the module from working in any other installation) sending fault warnings

We also saw the potential for:

* integrated DC to DC voltage controllers that could provide versatility and flexibility

* integrated voltage regulators minimising components and commissioning time integrated micro inverters for AC output

Some of these ideas may never work but credit to to the boffins, they designed a smart module platform that was ready for the enabling technology to catch up.

The technology has just caught up.

If ever there was a chance for a PV manufacturer to demonstrate differentiation, innovation and a willingness to lead in a quagmire of sameness, it could be the that Electric Imp is the device to do it.

Footnote – I have no affiliation with Electric Imp or pecuniary interest, I’m just excited!

Nigel Morris is Director of Solar Business Services

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  1. Tirthankar Banerjee 8 years ago

    Module level monitoring and control made a lot of sense when module prices where in the range of $2 to $3 /Wp. Now with prices <$1/Wp it is more economical to use more number of modules than marginally improve the energy output from individual modules.Technology is exciting, but it does not always make commercial sense.

  2. Kevin Meyerson 8 years ago

    I agree that being able to connect any device to the internet is an exciting trend. Generally it’s called “The Internet of Things” or “M2M” (Machine To Machine). Regarding cost points, personally, I think connecting every panel will make sense as long as the connectivity solution gets very cheap – and that is where the module prices in this space are heading. As long as a panel costs more than a few dollars, it will become cheap enough to connect them eventually. The vast benefits for value added services via the cloud will come and many people will be happy to pay a bit for those added benefits. It may take a few years, but it’s definitely coming.

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