The value proposition of AC panels


DC solar panels have dominated the solar market since the discovery of functional terrestrial solar panels in 1953. Now the old technology is being replaced in the market by the next evolution of the solar panel: the integrated AC solar module.

AC modules are gaining traction as a popular panel solution. IHS predicts that in 2017 AC modules will reach 32 percent of all microinverter shipments, becoming the fastest growing microinverter type to reach 800 MW in 2018. GTM Research reported the market value for smart and AC modules is expected to reach $603 million in 2020.

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Combined with the explosive growth of the solar industry, AC modules are replacing outdated technology with better technology that serves the installers and end-users with more effective electricity generation. According to GTM Research solar analyst Scott Moskowitz, “The PV industry is hungry for solutions that simplify labor, eliminate redundancy and lower overall costs.” This is why AC modules will continue to grow in the marketplace for the foreseeable future.

The greatest advantage of AC modules is that they do not require high-voltage DC wiring, which make them safer to install than traditional models. This ensures that there will be a lower risk that an installer will be hurt through an accidental encounter with a DC wire. The potential for fires will also plummet — giving installers, inspectors and end-users confidence in an array’s safety.

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As a self-contained power source, AC modules ensure the maximum amount of power from each module and, unlike traditional DC modules, AC modules monitor themselves. Armed with real-time production data, consumers and installers can ensure the array is actually producing the amount of power it promises.

Operators can also determine if specific AC modules are struggling and deal only with those problem modules, allowing the rest of the array to keep producing power. The monitoring of DC modules is less precise because their central/string inverter connections only collect information about the entire array.

Skeptics might argue that integrating inverters on the back of a solar module may cause problems when the warranty length of the inverter and panel are not aligned. This may be true for some products on the market but can be avoided when working with the right integrated AC module providers. There are integrated products on the market today that offer comprehensive 25-year warranties for the integrated modules and inverters.

San Diego Solar Install (SDSI) was able to save 30 percent on its labor costs by switching to AC modules. Bruce Bosworth of SDSI comments that they “like the efficiency, the warranty, the safety and the packaging.” For Bosworth, the comprehensive warranty made it the obvious choice for his team.

Erik Bartone of DBS Energy specifically chose AC modules because the microinverters were already attached to the back. In an effort to simplify the installation process at Medical Professions and Teachers Preparation (MPTP) Academy in New Britain, Conn., Bartone turned to AC modules.

“We didn’t have to worry about fastening all the microinverters. It was a pretty attractive option for us,” Bartone says.

Robert Onofrey is the VP of sales at Phono Solar North America.

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