SunPower : AC Solar Panels Are The Future

SunPower AC Modules

SunPower’s CEO has said AC solar panels are the future, but will its AC modules have a future here in Australia? Local SunPower fans might think even a present would be good for starters.

Late last week, it was announced Enphase Energy Inc, had completed the previously announced acquisition of SunPower’s microinverter business ahead of schedule.

This will see Enphase IQ family of microinverters used on SunPower’s AC Modules. An AC module is a solar panel fitted with a microinverter, a small version of the much larger string solar inverters commonly seen in solar power installations. You can learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of AC solar panels and microinverters here.

SunPower Chairman and CEO Tom Werner is bullish on the technology.

“We believe that AC modules are the future and this is an important step to accelerating global adoption, while helping to streamline and focus SunPower’s business priorities,” he said.

While SunPower AC modules have been available elsewhere for some time, they’ve been missing from the Australian scene. The modules used SolarBridge microinverters, the latest generation of which were never designed to operate at Australian AC frequency and voltage.

Now Enphase are the inverter supplier for SunPower AC modules, the hope is that they’ll make their way to Australian shores sooner rather than later.

“We now expect volume shipments of IQ 7XS microinverters in the fourth quarter of 2018 and an acceleration of the ramp throughout 2019,” said Badri Kothandaraman, president and CEO of Enphase Energy. “ACM1 is a significant component of our profitable top line growth strategy. We look forward to being a strong innovation partner for SunPower.”

The IQ 7XS was designed specifically for SunPower’s X Series 96-cell solar panels.

Enphase scooped up SunPower’s microinverter business for a total of USD $25 million in cash and 7.5 million shares of Enphase common stock. As well as the business, the acquisition brings 140 more patents to Enphase’s intellectual property portfolio.

In other recent news from the two companies, four megawatts of SunPower solar panels are powering Arab Jordan Investment Bank and Sonnedix Japan K.K. has selected SunPower modules for its 46.6-Megawatt Tono Solar Project.

On the Enphase side of things, we reported a couple of weeks back the company shipped 675,000 microinverters during the second quarter, up around 10.5% on Q1 and bringing its total tally to date to around 18 million.

Footnotes

  1. ACM = AC Module
About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Having designed many systems over the years, I can’t help but think that this proposal is ridiculous in the extreme. For a start, the idea of putting semiconductors which will be “working hard” out in the same blazing sunshine as the actual cells need to be exposed to generate their power makes little sense. I imagine to make the best of these panels/modules, they would need to be easily replaced – perhaps even by the consumer, who could then just buy another set from the local supplier (Bunnings?) Another “throw away” item.

  2. Well then, “ won’t that ve a strange influence of the system ! For how & do you isolate it ( considering, that islolaterscshit’m selfs… ) to add further live power situations is puzzling us, by it all ! “

  3. Doing micro-inverter embedded panels as an import is incredibly hard in Australia.

    The key reasons are:
    — restrictive CEC / AS5033 sizing constraints (maximum 350W input);
    — if imported as a complete panel + inverter, need pay a tariff on the whole value, if importing separately, only pay tariff on the inverter
    — the tendency of installers to carry panels up ladder as one person rather than two persons in other markets where labour is cheaper and scaffold / crane use is more prevalent (such as EU, USA) – these panels are heavier.
    — MLPE is moving more and more to more economical “two module per micro/optimiser” methods that can’t be done with “AC panels”
    — high cost of listing panels with CEC considering short volumes for limited time (CEC listing is only valid 2 years, considering pre-sales normally require certification, this gives only about 1.5 years for the bulk of sales to occur.

    The last point is also affected by the shifts in industry that are rapid and hard to predict, e.g. the fall in module prices makes panels with built-in smarts look *relatively* more expensive more quickly, manufacturers are introducing new products all the time requiring more certification, manufacturers like REC, QCells, Jinko and others have introduced half cell panels and bifacial panels that don’t have a logical location for embedded items.

    Microinverters will 100% still have a place, it just won’t be as embedded panels. Keeping the items separate allows the micro inverter installer to respond quickly to changing panel trends whilst still offering all of the safety benefits.

  4. The enphase micro inverters are the best in the world with less than 1% fail rate. I got 19 of there M215 model on my roof and have been exposed to the heat of 3 Brisbane summers.

  5. Karl Tietze says

    Reading the comments, I have a few of my own to make:-
    1. Solar cells are semiconductors too and are directly exposed to the sun. So why would the inverter be less reliable? Or is it made cheaply?
    2. It’s horses for courses. Most solar systems have been installed to maximise power production or else installer’s convenience (i.e. profit). This has resulted in massive peaks in production around midday. We need to spread production across the whole of daylight hours. AC solar panels may contribute to the feasibility of this.
    3. I’m waiting for a solar system that produces and stores enough power for my light circuit (all LEDs) plus NBN router ONLY (or perhaps also a couple of DC ceiling fans) which makes for a predictable maximum load with relatively low power inverter.and an economical battery – possibly Nickel-Iron since they last forever and don’t explode or burn (if memory serves). The mains could feed a backup charger. I would then always have lights and NBN!

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