According to a recent market report by the solar power Industry Association and Wood Mackenzie, the U.S solar market surpassed 2 million installations in Q1 2019 - just three years after the market exceeded the 1 million installation milestone. The industry is projected to endure growing at an increased pace and hit 3 million installations in 2021.
"As Moore’s Law revolutionized the industry, an identical effect is happening within solar"
Innovation is one among the main catalysts for the rapid climb of the industry as technological advancements help increase the efficiency of major equipment, drive down costs and more importantly, improve the operational safety of solar systems.
Solar modules and inverters are a number of the main components of economic solar systems that have undergone significant innovation and advancements over the past decade. This is often partly thanks to the very fact that global R&D funding has been increasing year over year. PV Tech Magazine reported quite US$2.0 billion in total research spending over the past two years by the highest 21 solar module manufacturers.
The typical solar module used on commercial systems 5 years ago averaged about 300 watts but the workhorse within the industry today is on the brink of 380 watts. That’s an efficiency increase of just about 27 percent within that point frame. Additionally, improvements in manufacturing processes and economies of scale drove the reduction of the value to supply those modules by almost 50 percent.
Some of the key innovations in module technology that has enabled significant efficiency gains include the appliance of Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC) technology to solar cells, the arrival of half-cut cells, increased number of printed bus bars on cells and reduction of white space between cells during a module by increasing the dimension of every cell. Another technology that contributed to the ability leap worth nothing is bifacial modules. Power is often produced from each side of a bifacial module, increasing the entire energy generation, sometimes up to twenty percent. of these innovations helped lower the levelized cost of solar power to point where grid parity has already been achieved during a number of states within the U.S..
Solar inverters have also undergone multiple waves of innovation throughout the years. Not only are they more efficient today, but they're safer and more sophisticated in terms of grid interaction. About half a decade ago, commercial solar systems utilized central inverters that were dimensionally larger than refrigerators and converted DC to AC at around 95 percent efficiency. Today, string inverters are typically designed into systems and are about the dimensions of a medium suitcase and may achieve up to 99 percent efficiency. Safety improvements have also been an enormous focus of the industry, driven by regulatory codes and standards just like the National Electrical Code. All commercial solar inverters used today are required to possess built-in DC arc-fault detection and rapid shutdown capabilities. These features not only help prevent electrical arc faults within the array but also aid first responders within the event of an emergency.
In 2017, California Rule 21 mandated that each one commercial solar inverters installed within the state are required to possess smart features inbuilt to permit simpler interaction and communication with the utility grid. These new features help improve grid resilience through support functions like voltage regulation, frequency support and ride through capabilities. As solar penetration increases throughout the country, these features can help enhance grid stability and resilience.
The solar industry has certainly answered the decision of innovation and can still do so within the coming years. As Moore’s Law revolutionized the industry, an identical effect is happening within solar.