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New tech slashes solar installation costs

Posted: 03 Sep 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar panel? installation cost? photovoltaic?

A power management startup venture promises to lower the installed cost of solar power systems and improve energy harvesting efficiency by up to 30 percent through technology that allows connection of solar panels in parallel as opposed to in series.

The ability to connect solar panels in parallel enables the connection of more 100 thin-film photovoltaic panels on a single cable, according to the startup, eIQ Energy Inc. This represents a 20-fold improvement over conventional string architecture, and could reduce installation costs by about 5 percent in large, commercial-scale thin film installations, according to Oliver Janssen, eIQ's CEO.

Janssen said traditional solar panel strings, architected in series, have several requirements, including that the panels on each string must be in balance and cannot exceed a certain voltage. Parallel solar technology is free from such requirements, he said.

"This is just a very fundamental difference," Janssen said. "Parallel is cheaper."

According to eIQ, the company's flagship product, the Parallux system, is built around the firm's proprietary vBoost DC/DC converter module. The technology mitigates the effects of panel mismatch due to shading, soiling and manufacturing variations.

The vBoost module allows any solar panel to be connected in parallel to a constant high-voltage DC power bus, according to eIQ. It also incorporates distributed maximum power point tracking (MPPT), the company said. The module has been tested with a range of crystalline and thin-film solar panels at eIQ's San Jose test facility and at various ongoing beta site installations, eIQ said.

The DC bus voltage can be fixed at the optimal level for any inverter, according to the company, improving inverter efficiency and reliability. In combination with distributed MPPT, this enables solar photovoltaic systems to harvest 5 to 30 percent more energy than conventional systems, the company said.

Executives from eIQ say the company's technology gives designers the freedom to focus their efforts on power production rather than component interaction. Simplified wiring, easy interconnection, unit level monitoring and reduced inverter expenses assure operators of long-term performance and lower costs throughout the system's life cycle, according to the firm.

The Parallux system also includes panel-level monitoring for enhanced visibility into system operation, eIQ said, helping to streamline maintenance and ensure long-term system performance. Monitoring data is sent over the main power bus, so no separate cabling or wireless system is needed.

In addition to large, commercial installations, the eIQ solution can also be scaled for smaller residential installations.

Janssen said eIQ plans to officially launch the Parallux system at the Solar Panel International 09 tradeshow next month in Anaheim, Calif. The company will announce pricing information for the product at that time, he said.

Janssen said eIQ was founded in 2007 specifically to enable parallel solar technology. The company's founders, development and management teams include experts in DC power electronics and analog semiconductors with experience in power supplies, power management and renewable energy, he said. The company has received a total of $10 million in funding from NGEN Partners and Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH.

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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