Solar Builder

JAN 2018

Solar Builder focuses on the installation/construction of solar PV systems. We cover the latest PV technology (modules, mounting, inverters, storage, BOS) and equip installers/contractors with tips and tools to make informed purchasing decisions.

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18 JA N UA RY / F E B RUA RY 2 0 1 8 "The complexity here is not on the installer end," Mendik says. Manufacturers had to develop a transmitter that's hooked to the DC line and puts in the signal. Some of these solutions are already available, like the Fronius Symo. Other companies announcing immediate plans to incorporate the technology into their product lines include ABB, Maxim Integrated, Omron, Outback, SMA and Tigo. You can expect to see most of these around Q2 this year. There is no UL testing protocol yet to certify these products, but UL is part of the SunSpec Alliance, and you can expect this to happen soon. Why else is this a big deal? Not to be flippant about the importance of safety, but this protocol opens the door for way more impactful product developments. There's an opportunity here to make your life even easier and bring the costs of a system down even more. 1. Proprietary boundaries will come down. For starters, the array-to-rapid-shutdown-box-to-inverter archi- tecture is more flexible. Prior to any updates, you had to procure the rapid shutdown box and the inverter from the same manufacturer. No more. "The installer can install the systems as before and doesn't have to worry about matching inverters of rapid shutdown boxes," Mendik says. So, that's cool, but that flexibility goes way beyond the rapid shut- down, inverter pairing. "There's no specific [module-level electronics] on the roof," Mendik continues. "If there are different panels, they will be working with different rapid shutdown boxes. If one type of inverter in a system breaks, it can be replaced with another, and it will still work. A distributor can have different inverter types in stock for replacement, and everything will still be in line with the protocol." 2. System designs will be streamlined. Today, that rapid shutdown box is just an added expense, even now, after the protocol. This is why many installers prefer module-level electronics like microinverters, which meet rapid shutdown module- level requirements while also adding optimization, monitoring and design flexibility. In the not-too-distant future though, this rapid shutdown box will be gone completely, even in a string inverter design. Soon, using this common language, module manufacturers will be including supped up junction boxes or chips from a company like Maxim instead of diodes. These will meet NEC 2017 and provide MLE performance with a string inverter design. This will keep costs and industry part counts down. "An integrated module in the future, where the installer doesn't have to buy and wire a specific rapid shutdown box … it'll be like going back in time to when he didn't have to worry about that," Mendik says. "This also means you won't have complex electronics on the roof. The standard forces you into more complexity for rapid shutdown, but the solution we're looking at is simple electronics, not power electronics and doesn't convert power from DC to AC." Thomas sums it up: "The customer in the end has a choice. I think that's a big benefit. Customers don't want to get stuck with one ven- dor and want the right to choose between different manufacturers. Having this choice and competition will reduce costs in the end ." Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar Builder. New from Tigo. Tigo just announced the addition of TS4-F (Fire Safety) to its TS4 Platform of integrated and retrofit/add-on junction box covers to align with the new SunSpec powerline com- munication specification. Tigo tested compatibility with multiple inverter suppliers — including SMA — and will continue to expand its compliant inverter portfolio. The difference between TS4-F and TS4-S (Safety) is TS4-F uses PLC SunSpec-compliant signaling while TS4-S uses wireless signaling. TS4-F requires an initiator while TS4-S uses Tigo's CCA and Gateway to transmit a rapid shutdown signal. TS4-F is more cost-effective, but TS4-S includes module-level monitoring. BOS NEW IN INTERWEBS ON THE Podcast with Fronius. Dan Fortson, applications engineer for Fronius USA, is a lifer in solar energy — starting back in the Wild West days of the '80s, learning from the early off-grid PV pio- neers to now working for one of the top inverter brands in the industry. He has seen a lot over the years, and he's not opposed to giving a few hot takes about solar and its place in the world. So, he made for a fascinating Solar Builder Buzz podcast guest. Our chat ranges from the technology most exciting him today to what he would do if he could change the energy industry right now. Head to www.blubrry.com/solar_builder_buzz to listen and subscribe.

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