Despite being a relatively young industry, solar is growing at a breakneck pace as demand for clean, renewable energy increases worldwide. The technology that allows solar systems to harness the energy of the sun and transform it into electricity to power homes and businesses is also changing quickly. The changes are making solar more efficient and cheaper for customers.
A key area of growth for solar is its electricity-generating capacity. When solar panels first became widely adopted, most PV systems used 600V components. However, in 2012, 1000V PV systems began to come online. With the higher voltage came increased electrical yields and greater return on investment. Balance of system costs were reduced as 1000V systems needed fewer inverters and shorter runs of wire. The lower costs and higher generating capacity allowed solar to advance its market share, bringing sustainable energy to more businesses and residences.
"Three years after 1,000V components became industry standard, solar is seeing another technological transition."
Now, a little over three years after 1,000V components became industry standard, solar is seeing another technological transition - this time to 1,500V systems. A new report from GTM Research estimates 1,500V systems will make up 9.2 percent of all PV installations over 1 megawatt in 2016, accounting for 4.6 gigawatts of new generating capacity. While these systems may have slightly higher upfront investment costs initially, they will offer greater ROI and lower overall cost through easier installation, and lower operation and maintenance due to fewer balance of systems components, the report found.
According to GreenTech Media, GTM's clean energy-focused news website, initial demand for 1500V systems will be driven primarily by the United States, India and the Middle East. The extension of the 30-percent federal tax credit for solar projects is expected to propel utility-scale adoption of 1,500V systems as the tax credit now runs through the end of 2016.
"Supply-chain constraints and certification limitations for 1,500V PV components have been the most significant obstacles to date for 1,500V systems," Scott Moskowitz, an analyst at GTM Research, explained to GreenTech Media. "However, these barriers have quickly dissolved, laying the groundwork for a market that will increasingly be made up of higher-voltage systems."
The perks and challenges of 1,500V
As PV Magazine explained, higher voltage leads to a lower current and a resulting reduction in power loss during transmission, resulting in a great energy harvest. Systems with 1,500V components can have 50 percent longer strings than systems with 1000V components, which can eliminate the amount of combiners and wiring by a third. This allows for reduced installation time and wire costs. Overall, 1500V components are estimated to result in 3 percent total cost savings, the magazine reported.
"Systems with 1,500V modules have reduced installation times, resulting in overall cost savings."
However, this higher voltage doesn't come without challenges. According to Solar Builder magazine, higher voltage increases the risks for Potential Induced Degradation. In order to achieve the greater ROI offered by 1500V components, solar system operators need to work with panels designed to reduce the likelihood of PID, which can lower the energy harvest and negate the cost savings of the higher voltage panels.
Early adopters of higher voltage systems also want to know that any potential safety concerns are addressed. This makes certification and safety testing especially crucial in order to ensure these new components can safely interact with existing infrastructure such as inverters, transformers and switchgears, as well as maintain compliance with electrical codes. This becomes especially critical for commercial projects that may seek to utilize 1,500V panels in rooftop systems.
Trina Solar offers certified 1500V modules
As the world's leading solar manufacturer, Trina Solar is one of an increasing number of companies bringing 1500V modules to the global market. Priding itself in performance, quality and safety, Trina also became the first PV manufacturer to receive Underwriters Laboratories' UL1500V certification and offer a product that meets the most stringent PID testing conditions of 1500V system available by any independent testing organization.
Trina Solar's DUOMAX dual-glass modules are certified for 1500V by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). They were tested under relative humidity of 85 percent and a temperature of 85 degrees Celsius for 192 hours and found to maintain performance rate standards created by UL and TUV Rheinland. The 1500V DUOMAX module also met UL's Fire Class A safety standards and showed high levels of resistance to degradation caused by thermal cycling, moisture ingress, mechanical loading, micro-cracking, module warping, UV aging and corrosion from factors such as ammonia, acid, alkali, salt and sand abrasion.
By providing safe, durable and high-performing 1500V modules, Trina Solar empowers its customers to design PV systems with longer string length, reducing the number of balance of system components and the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) the system generates. With better performing products, Trina Solar provides cost savings, as well as innovation that are propelling the growth of the solar ecosystem.
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