Lux Research’s new report, “Shorting Out the Myths of Solar Power Electronics: What Fits and What Fails,” has examined the power electronics options that are becoming increasingly available to solar installers and project developers in order to help establish what technologies actually offer the best performance and lowest cost in the residential, commercial and utility solar divisions.
Per the report, solar installers and project developers are enthused by the new power electronics technologies, especially microinverters and power optimization through maximum power-point tracking (MPPT). Lux asserts that while these technologies do augment power harvest in some solar applications, many solar installations have been subject to the technology’s low efficiency and high up-front costs.
“Firms offering microinverter or MPPT technology are making expansive claims that their technologies offer benefits across the board,” said Matthew Feinstein of Lux Research, the lead author of the report. “Although the potential benefits of these new technologies are real, their value often depends on the specific size and application of the solar installation in which they’re used.”
Lux Research conducted its analysis by computing how different inverters and power optimizer configurations would impact its levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) model that is able to closely compare between solar generation costs and other power plant types. Once the analysis is completed with the LCOE, the results are put into an updated model for all three key classes of inverters and power optimizer configurations in each market that predicts where the technology works and where it falls short.
Lux found that performance factor models showed that smaller solar installations performed favorably in distributed-power electronics settings giving microinverters an edge. However, the same doesn’t go for utility-scale applications where the sum of losses has a better market for centralized inversion. Further, when investigating the LCOE for each power electronics options in the different applications, microinverters seemed to go well with the residential market division, while string inverters favored the commercial market and central inverters the utility market.
Among its conclusion, Lux Research conceded that installers and product developers value reliability as the most important factor in new or old technology with inverter efficiency and system performance a close second. The report notes that while it doesn’t consider cost and ease of maintenance mutually exclusive, they are both areas that can be improved upon.