Modules and integration: Four reasons why AC, smart modules are on the rise

The LG NeON 2 ACe

The LG NeON 2 ACe debuts at Intersolar 2017.

At Intersolar 2017, the industry’s newest power couple made its engagement announcement: LG and Enphase have teamed up on an AC module. Known as LG’s NeON 2 ACe, the new product combines LG’s NeON 2 technology with Enphase’s IQ6+ microinverter.

“This changes the basic architecture of an install — the goal is to see the inverter go away and to go plug-and-play,” LG noted at the press event. “This also makes warehousing easier by reducing part count.”

But wait, there is more. Also around Intersolar, Boviet Solar Technology finalized an agreement with SolarEdge Technologies to include SolarEdge power optimizers with its 60-cell mono smart solar modules. Boviet is just one example in a growing list of manufacturers to setup such an arrangement with SolarEdge.

“This new arrangement with SolarEdge gives our customers a single source for both solar panels and power optimizers, which means less equipment to stock and transport to the jobsite,” says John Bereckis, president of the Boviet Solar USA Module Division.

These are just the two most public announcements of MLPE and module marriages — putting faces on a trend that’s been evolving the last few years, whether it is a power optimizer-embedded smart module, a microinverter-embedded AC module, or maybe just a souped-up junction box. Here are some reasons to consider an integrated module, MLPE solution:

1. Streamline purchasing and installation

LG PresentationSolar installers commonly source their solar modules from one vendor and match solar power optimizers supplied by another. By bundling the power optimizer with the module, installers only have to work with a single supplier, which results in savings in both product sourcing and installation. In addition, purchasing solar modules with MLPE pre-installed ensures turnkey functionality and shortens installation time.

“By incorporating MLPE in the module, we eliminate the need to install separate boxes on modules, reducing labor costs,” says Gautam Ghose, senior product marketing manager at Trina Solar. “This enables efficient design and also reduces shipping, inventory tracking and storage costs.”

Trina Solar is currently working with Maxim and Tigo, but says it is pursuing other partnerships as we speak. The integrations are available in the company’s Trinasmart, Trinaswitch and Trinapeak models.

System owners receive the same type of design and efficiency benefits with smart modules that have embedded power optimizers as with the add-on power optimizers. The power optimizers offer MPPT per module, which allows for flexible installation design with multiple orientations, tilts and module types in the same string.

2. Safety

No fretting about meeting any Rapid Shutdown requirements. A smart or AC module is ready to comply right off the bat.

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3. More monitoring, less mismatch

Incorporating MLPE into the module at the outset ensures module-level monitoring in each system to help pinpoint system performance issues, resolve those issues and minimize downtime over the life of the system.

“Using smart modules offers a variety of benefits, such as faster installation for labor savings, simplified purchasing and inventory, and easier site logistics,” says Lior Handelsman, VP of marketing and product strategy at SolarEdge.

“With the optimization in Trinasmart and Trinapeak, you increase the energy produced by your PV system by minimizing mismatch losses caused by partial system shading or the varying degradation rates of individual modules,” says Parjanya Rijal, product marketing manager at Trina.

If problems are discovered, each manufacturer notes the simpler serviceability for field replacement in addition to the more granular degree of optimization. The strategy here is to maximize the energy produced from each cell in a module and increase durability by eliminating hotspots.

For example, the NeON ACe provides an integrated web-based solution. Monitor power generation through the internet, anywhere and anytime and utilize an automatic problem diagnosis function. With the LG AC Module mobile app, it’s possible to set up all monitoring configuration steps.

4. Install flexibility

Tigo seems to work with every company on both the module and inverter side to ensure smooth integration of its Flex MLPE TS4 Platform. Tigo emphasizes the importance of selective deployment with its Flex MLPE TS4 platform because different functionalities can be used together in the same system by using different TS4 covers.

“Diodes, monitoring and safety (TS4-D, TS4-M and TS4-S) can be selectively deployed on any size system,” the company notes. “Predictive IV is a feature of the TS4-O and TS4-L, which uses analytical data about the module itself to predict optimal performance conditions. This data is used in conjunction with Tigo’s impedance matching technology, allowing for selective placement only on shaded modules.”

Optimization also enables wiring flexibility: Longer strings, uneven string lengths, layouts and orientations, shade mitigation and so on.

“For example, a residential customer might combine strings of modules of different lengths or tilts. Customers can also have modules at different orientations on the same string,” Rijal says.

In addition to fitting more modules into tight spaces, one can easily add additional panels in the future as power needs increase. These features boost the aesthetic and technical advantages of rooftop solar.

When working with SolarEdge inverters, SolarEdge power optimizers automatically maintain a fixed string voltage, allowing installers even greater flexibility with longer strings and strings of different lengths in order to design optimal PV systems. This means more modules can be installed on the roof for increased system size and longer strings for decreased BoS costs.

This article appeared in the Sept./Oct. issue of Solar Builder magazine. Not a subscriber? It’s free! Get on the list today.