Suntech places bet on smart modules (updated)

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Integrating energy harvesting technologies into crystalline solar modules is fast becoming the latest trend, which promises lower BOS costs compared to bolt-on applications. With the number of companies entering this market mushrooming in 2010, Suntech has decided to collaborate with at least four such firms, Tigo Energy, National Semiconductor, Azuray Technologies, and Enphase Energy. 

Suntech, the largest c-Si module producer, is working on developing the right technologies that integrate both technology solutions into its modules. In May 2009, Suntech said that it was evaluating National Semiconductor’s ‘SolarMagic’ power optimizer chipset.

According to National Semiconductor, real-world tests as part of the original agreement with Suntech revealed its technology could to recoup an average of 50% of energy lost due to shading and module mismatch, and in some cases captured as much as 75% of otherwise lost energy compared to standard panel performance.

Tigo noted that its Energy Maximizer solution is designed to ‘quickly integrate’ into the junction box and provides statistical conversion efficiency of 99.5%, mitigating the need for heat dissipation to be designed into the system. Tigo also claimed that some microinverters created 10W of power radiated as heat that went into the PV module.

Key developments taking place with the technology offerings include the integration of the chipsets into the back of the conventional junction box.

Although timelines were not given as to when ‘smart modules’ would be made commercially available, a growing number of module manufacturers are working to launch integrated solutions in the next 12 months.

UPDATE

Suntech has also signed smart panel-related collaboration deals with two other companies: Azuray Technologies and Enphase Energy.

The Chinese solar manufacturer will investigate Azuray's maximum power point tracking (MPPT) DC-to-DC technology, which claims to yield as much as 25% greater solar energy harvest from panels affected by shading, mismatch, or other real-world conditions.

Along with Enphase, Suntech will explore the integration of microinverters into Suntech PV panels to simplify and accelerate solar system installation and maximize energy output.

 

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