Solar panels currently cannot communicate, cannot adjust to environmental circumstances, and do not have automatic shutdown capabilities. However, solar panels continue to get more efficient. Most of the newer solar panels are equipped with optimizers, either built in or separately attached. Microinverters provide the same basic benefits at similar costs; however, optimizers operate on the DC side are always connected to a central or string inverter.
Optimizers, also referred to as power electronics, provide three basic functions:
- They optimize the output of each panel by adjusting the current and voltage generated by each panel. If there is a panel operating at a low current, the optimizer can lower the voltage, which will increase the current and prevent the panel from affecting the current of other panels.
- Optimizers are made so that the installer or system owner can see the performance of each individual panel.
- Some of the newer optimizers provide code-required automatic DC shutdown capabilities to prevent arcing and fires.
Optimizers may have gotten a slow start, as with many new solar technologies. New solar technologies tend to have higher initial costs and unproven benefits. Yet as production increases, prices decrease, operating capabilities improve, and more installers use optimizers for residential and commercial projects. A big step was when the panel manufacturers began to integrate optimizers into the junction boxes. This led to reduction of cost of parts and installer labor.
The Energy Show is a 20-minute podcast that airs weekly. The podcast provides tips and gives advice to homeowners wanting to reduce home and business energy consumption. Each week addresses a topic that can help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies, and get to the point in order to help you make smarter energy choices. Barry Cinnamon, a long-time proponent of renewable energy and a widely recognized solar power expert is the host of The Energy Show. Barry Cinnamon founded Akeena Solar in 2001. This week the guest on The Energy Show is Zvi Alon, Chairman and CEO of Tigo Energy, one of the pioneers in the optimizer business.