In the year-end episode of Power Forward! we discussed notable solar and storage product innovations from 2022 and what product trends we can expect to change the industry in 2023. Here is that part of our wide-ranging 2023 outlook with David Dunlap, VP of product strategy with U.S. solar distributor BayWa r.e. We also discuss the solar module supply and policy issues. Check out that part of the discussion here.
Crowell: Let’s talk a little bit about products in 2022. What’s stood out to you?
Dunlap: I don’t really feel like we had a whole lot of what I would call groundbreaking new product, but I think there’s two or three things that rise to the top for what we’ve seen this year. One was Enphase releasing the IQ8 series and showing us what the future state of inverter technology can be, highlighting the fact that it can be grid forming, grid- agnostic, the potential for daylight backup and bi-directionality in inverters. I think they really beat everyone else to the punch with those things.
And thinking, ‘well, IQ8 is just X number of dollars more expensive than the previous one, and I don’t want to pay that, and it just makes it more challenging,’ but if we really dig under the hood and look at what that technology is, there’s some significant value adds and unlocking new potentials that is still being a little underappreciated.
On the commercial side, we’ve just seen a push toward much larger common building blocks on the inverter. It used to be that it was kind of rare that we would sell 100-kW inverters, and now those are commonplace – 100, 125, 150 — and a lot of the companies are looking at releasing 250-, 350-kW size inverters. So, big changes in the building blocks, and of course that keeps up with the fact that the modules, the power density is going up, and just building bigger and bigger systems.
Lastly, on the storage side, we really did see at RE+, the response to the market demand for a single functional storage add-on, a single point of contact, accountability, warranty and performance wrap in a storage product. It’s less about a battery that goes with someone else’s inverter and somebody else’s rooftop rapid shutdown. That’s much more common in many other countries, but here in the U.S., the market really is wanting a single ac coupled and PV agnostic solution.
Crowell: I was definitely waiting for the industry to get to that point because I think it’s good for homeowners and I think it’s good for installers to be able to just simplify and streamline on a particular brand or a product family.
Dunlap: I agree on all of that, and I think it is a challenge at the kitchen table to kind of design your entire energy future when you’ve just starting and thinking about contemplating the solar side. So being able to do it in chunks and maybe come back for an add-on a year later. And of course that’s a great fit with the policy around the IRA and the offering of standalone storage incentives. So, really perfect timing for that solution set up.
Crowell: Absolutely. Great point. … This is Power Forward! so let’s think past 2022. What do you see on the horizon trend wise in 2023? Or what are you most excited for that you think is going to be coming?
Dunlap: There’s a couple of things in the module space that I think we would have seen this year if not for all of these headwinds and the challenges around COVID and the supply chain for the last three years. We are starting to get the leading roadmap information from the suppliers about changes in n-type wafers and TOPCon technology.
… What this leads to in combination with larger wafers and cell size is just a greater energy than density. So, within the same however many sq ft or sq meters of the panel, you can pack in more Watts at a higher efficiency. I think the days of the standard p-type mono PERC are kind of sun setting, or they’re at their peak, and I think we’re going to see over the course of 2023 many of the major brands releasing new higher efficiency, higher Watt class and larger format wafers and cells in their modules.
That’s also going to change the overall frame size. We went from … a standard 60-cell residential module, and they started getting bigger, then they got longer, then they added another row, and now it’s 66, and then, well, why not put a 72-cell on a house? I think going to the larger form factor cell is going to allow them to go back down in form factor. So, we’re seeing more 54-cell half cut or even, in the case of Trina, they’ve got a 40-cell third cut. So, it’s back to 120, but it’s a different form factor, and it’s the sweet spot for what works on residential roofs, particularly in the Northeast where the roof is very angled in pitched.
In the utility and large C&I, we’re definitely going to be seeing 600 W and up, and we’re seeing bifaciality in the utility and commercial space almost exclusively. Many of the major manufacturers don’t even offer monofacial for their commercial modules anymore. I think we’re going to start seeing that same bifaciality come into residential, whether we’re advertising it or selling on the basis of that backside gains [or not], the cells themselves are capable of bifacial.
Overall in the industry, I think we’re going to start seeing next year is that we’re at the forefront of a shift toward an electrification industry rather than just a solar plant installation industry. Introducing EV chargers, energy monitoring and management more as a robust thing. Load controls, storage and backup. I think we’re going to start seeing more holistic energy management platforms and bi-directional inverters, and I think we’re going to see a connection between solar and the internet of things, the smart connected home environment. I think this is really a space for us all to actively participate in but also to understand what the opportunities might be for our businesses.
Pick up the rest of the forward looking conversation right here, as Dunlap discusses the 2023 policy environment.
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