The handful of integrated photovoltaic solar panel plus battery storage system manufacturers in the market are solidifying the sophistication of their offerings, touting more power, longer warranties on parts and labor, one-stop O&M trouble calls, and high consumer confidence in big brands.
While patching together a solar + storage system from disparate manufacturers may cost less, or may be what some installers recommend (at times based on warehouse stock) — the advantages of an integrated approach seem to far outweigh whatever additional upfront costs that may exist. That’s at least the bet a growing roster of companies are making.
Trusting big brands
Top brands have always commanded a premium in the U.S. market, and top brand solar + storage providers are counting on such consumer preference. “Consumers will pay more for premium brands,” reckoned Bruce Chandler, Panasonic’s Northwest Regional Sales Manager, on a Solar Builder webinar.
Other internationally well-known integrated solar + storage manufacturers, like Tesla, and until-recently, LG, similarly may have a leg up the installation ladder over other PV manufacturers at the moment — like Canadian Solar, Jinko and Qcells — that have recently tacked on their own energy storage system lines (more on those later). No integrated castle is impregnable, however: LG in February decided to pull out of making PV panels, thanks to price competition from China. And while Tesla is still manufacturing solar panels, the lag time for installations has been exacerbated by supply chain woes.
Those factors, plus the expansive growth coming thanks to the passage of the IRA, means a big opening for new full PV + storage system contenders.
Some integrated system providers that manufacture a portion of key components but not PV — like Enphase and Generac — also can command a premium for the assurance of having a one-stop O&M and warranty provider for part of the system. But these partially-integrated manufacturers are still dependent on a major panel maker to make a sale.
Thus arises the major brand-on-brand alliance approach, like that of Panasonic-plus-Enphase, that marries two or more top brands for an overall system advantage with consumers.
Taking the brand alliance concept one step further in vertical integration, some racking makers also are now covered under single umbrella warranties for solar + storage systems. IronRidge and Unirac, for example, are both covered under Panasonic’s 25-year parts and labor warranty now.
More performance from Gen X versions
Upgrading the power and other performance factors in the latest-generation version of an integrated solar + storage system is key to holding market advantage.
For example, Panasonic’s Gen 2.0 EverVolt system, due out by end of this year, bumps up the power rating in the new system by 40% to 7.6 kW of continuous power, compared with the current Gen 1.5 system, said Vikki Kumar, a Systems Engineer in Panasonic’s residential solar and energy storage division, during the webinar. The stackable Gen 2.0 is based on lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry.
Canadian Solar made a splash at the recent RE+ solar trade show in Anaheim with the launch of its EP Cube, a residential inverter + storage unit. The modular system can expand from 9.9 kW to 19.9 kW, based on lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry. Up to six units can be connected in parallel for a total of 119.9 kWh of storage and 45.6 kW of energy output.
Similarly, Jinko’s first-gen stackable Eagle RS residential storage system, introduced last October, comes with a LFP DC-coupled battery with storage capacity of 7.6 kW / 26.2 kWh. The system is stackable up to 38.4 kWh. Read a bit more in the Solar Builder ESS Buyer’s Guide.
Qcells’ gen-three QHome Core storage system, announced at RE+, is based on a Lithium Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminium Oxide (NCA) battery with storage capacity of 6.86 kWh, stackable up to 20.5kWh. Qcells is pushing the integration envelope with the incorporation of a Samsung Eco Heating System heat pump in Europe.
“We’re excited to offer our installer partners and homeowners the Q.HOME CORE solution which can provide the peace of mind that comes with whole home backup, especially given record heatwaves and power outages. The new system also features a simplified installation process and is built with safety in mind,” stated Qcells North America President David Shin.
LG Energy Solution is transitioning from from nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) battery chemistry to LFP chemistry by the end of next year. Meanwhile, at RE+, LG ESS introduced its Home 8 residential system that combines an inverter and battery in a single unit. Its 7.5 kW inverter/charger provides a total capacity of 14.4 kWh of usable on-demand energy and is stackable up to 4 units, which in combination allows up to 57.6 kWh of usable energy.
And Tesla’s gen three Powerwall+, which soon will transition from NMC to LFP chemistry, includes a backup gateway and an inverter, and has 13.5 kWh of capacity for whole-home backup, with stackability for up to three units per line phase.
Refining and broadening software
An integrated solar + storage system is no better than the software that controls it, cradle-to-grave, from installation to O&M. Even more important to the system buyer, is how that software platform appears on a desktop computer or a phone. Enphase, for example, released its app version 22.4.0 in August, to improve customer control options during an outage, paired with push, text and email notifications.
Indeed, integrated providers must continuously upgrade their software functionality and user interface to hold market position. Panasonic, for example, plans to unveil a new EverVolt website for consumers and installers, leveraging its gateway for single point access and control. However stand-alone smart panels, like Lumin and Span, still provide options for individual circuit management during outages, a feature that the integrated solar + storage manufacturers have yet to embrace as a common feature (but can be made available via partnerships).
Two-way energy storage systems broaden opportunities
The anticipated use of EV battery systems to charge residential battery storage systems, and vice-versa, soon should broaden the opportunities for providers of integrated solar + storage systems.
In July, the U.S. Department of Energy announced plans for a $2.5 billion loan for Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture of General Motors Co. and LG Energy Solution. The money will finance new lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing facilities in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
Virtual Power Plants will also tap into two-way residential battery storage systems, presenting new revenue options for system owners. For example, Tesla has launched a VPP with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in California that may include 25,000 customers with Powerwalls. Soon, two-way storage systems will also utilize EV batteries to help boost VPP demands during hours when the rewards are high.
Charles W. Thurston is a contributor to Solar Builder. Sign up for our Plus e-newsletter for fresh energy storage articles and news delivered monthly to your inbox.
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