Intelligent Energy

Trend watch: Microinverters invade solar

Posting in Design

Microinverters -- a new techie spin on the traditional solar inverter -- are popping up with increasingly regularity and have been embraced by some powerful industry players including SunPower Corp.

OK, maybe it's not quite an invasion. But microinverters -- a new techie spin on the traditional solar inverter that converts direct current into alternating current for the grid -- are popping up with increasingly regularity and have been embraced by some powerful industry players including SunPower.

Solar installations typically have a large central inverter that takes the direct current generated by a group of panels and converts it into AC for the electrical grid. Microinverters function essentially the same way but are placed on each solar panel (see photo), which has some distinct advantages over central inverters. Microinverters make a rooftop or large commercial installation more efficient. They also make it easier to monitor power generation of each panel and quickly pinpoint a failure in the system. The idea is the added expense of the microinverter is offset by the savings created by increased efficiency and lower maintenance costs.

The number of microinverter solar products and partnerships that have been unveiled in recent weeks indicates the industry is paying attention and beginning to invest in technological innovation beyond the panel itself.

A few of recent microinverter developments

SunPower announced Monday that it was launching a series of AC solar panels. The microinverters, made by startup SolarBridge, are embedded into the panel at the factory. Microinverter leader Enphase Energy , which takes a different approach by selling their units directly to solar installers and system manufacturers, recently partnered with Hanwha Solar One, which will add the microinverter to its modules.

Earlier this month, Upsolar unveiled an AC module that features Enphase's microinverter and uses a mounting and grounding system from Zep Solar. The logical next step of this arrangement -- a microninverter designed to be compatible with any Zep Solar mounting and grounding system -- was announced today at the Solar Power International conference currently underway in Dallas.

Photo: Enphase Energy

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure