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Understanding inverters' role in the solar industry

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar power? solar inverter? photovoltaic?

PV systems are safe and highly reliable. The estimated lifetime of a PV module is 30 years. Furthermore, the modules' performance is very high, providing over 80 percent of the initial power after 25 years, which makes photovoltaic a very reliable technology in the long term. In addition, very high quality standards are set at a European level, which guarantees that consumers buy reliable products.

PV Modules can be recycled and, therefore, the materials used in the production process (silicon, glass, aluminium, etc.) can be reused. Recycling is not only beneficial for the environment but also for helping reduce the energy needed to produce those materials and, hence, the cost of fabrication.

It requires low maintenance. Solar modules are almost maintenance-free and are easily installed.

It brings electricity to remote rural areas. Solar systems give an added value to rural areas (especially in developing countries where electricity is not available). House lighting, hospital refrigeration systems and water pumping are some of the many applications for off-grid systems. Telecommunication systems in remote areas are also well-known users of PV systems.

It can be aesthetically integrated in buildings (BI PV). Systems can cover roofs and facades, cutting down on the energy buildings consume. They don't produce noise and can be integrated in very aesthetic ways. European building legislations have been and are being reviewed to make renewable energies a required energy source in public and residential buildings. This fact is accelerating the development of eco-buildings and positive energy buildings (E+ Buildings), opening up many opportunities for a better integration of PV systems in the built environment.

The energy payback time of a module is constantly decreasing. This means that the time required for a PV module to produce as much energy as it needs to be manufactured is very short, varying between 1.5 years and 3 years. Over its lifetime, a typical PV module, in a sunny climate, will produce over 20 times the electricity initially used to manufacture it.

Solar energy costs
While the oil industry uses price per barrel as its unit of price measurement, the primary unit of measure for the solar energy industry typically is price per Watt Peak (Wp). In order to translate, kWp (a standardized measure excluding solar conditions) to kWh (a measure that takes account of solar conditions), an adjustment for the actual location of the solar panel is necessary in order to take into account how much sunlight would be expected in that location over the period of a year.

Some simple examples are that a 1kWp System will produce approximately:
? 1800 kWh/year in Southern California
? 850 kWh/year in Northern Germany
? 1600-2000 kWh/year in India and Australia

Solar electricity prices today hover around 30 cents/kWh, or 2C5 times the average residential electricity tariffs.

Solar market
The solar PV market has been booming over the last years and is forecast to maintain an upward trend in the coming years. By the end of 2008 the global cumulative capacity exceeded 15.6 GWp, and at the end of 2009 hit 22.9 GWpa whopping 46 percent increase within just one year. It should be noted that the European Union contributes to more than 60 percent of the global cumulative capacity. Today, more than 3 million households in Europe get their power from solar photovoltaic electricity.

Competitive positioning
About 59 percent of the world's solar product sales installed in the last five years were in applications that are tied to the electricity grid. Solar Energy prices in these applications are 5C20 times more expensive than the cheapest source of conventional electricity generation, although they may only be 3C5 times the electricity tariff that utility customers pay. In contrast, PV can be fully cost competitive on economic grounds in remote (off-grid) industrial and habitational applications.

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