SPI a hotbed for PV technology launches


A key theme among new product launches was increased efficiency and reliability, which many company representatives suggested would help them compete against lower-priced, lower quality imports. These ranged from simple system components and finished photovoltaic modules, to sophisticated testing practices.

One highly visible new invention unveiled at the show is a monorail-mounted robotic motor driver, which services the realignment of an entire array of dual-axis solar trackers by traveling between each individual tracker, according to Kevin Chu, a robotics engineer at Menlo Park, CA-based Qbotix Solar Robotics.

The Qbotix Tracking System (QSR) carries the cost of a single-axis tracker system, yet delivers 40% more power than a fixed-tilt photovoltaic array and reduces levelized cost of energy by up to 20%, the company claims. Earlier this year, Qbotix increased its venture capital funding to US$7.5 million.

A more basic module component unveiled at the show is a new micro-inverter inductor produced by Precision Inc., of Minneapolis, which increases the inverter efficiency by up to 1% over competing products, at a cost of under $1, according to Brett Jelkin, an account manager for the company. The inductor is smaller in volume by about 50%, which PV module manufacturers find advantageous, he notes. The smaller shape was achieved by using a rectangular wire that appears to be flat, wound in tighter configuration than round wire.

A new 500-watt photovoltaic module was also launched at the show by tenKsolar, also based in Minneapolis. The XT PV Module 420W-P is currently in certification testing and is expected to be released commercially next January, according to Tim Johnson, a company marketer. The small footprint of the module 77 inches by 51 inches (1,965mm x 1,295mm) is expected to make it viable in rooftop applications where space is at a premium.

Originally designed for low-latitude applications, the module was later adapted for high insolation locations, particularly when used in the company's WAVE configuration with a reflecting mirror panel.

Another release is the anti-soiling aftermarket coating developed by 3M, which helps keep panels cleaner for longer, according to Carrie Ruby, a marketer for the company. With an expected first-quarter 2013 launch, the coating is applied with a roller and yields a 5 to 10% energy gain on a flat photovoltaic module, based on an 8 month test in the Arizona desert, she suggests.

The coating is expected to be priced at about $1 per square meter, with coverage of about 20 square meters per liter. "Down the road we also will be looking at an OEM product," she added.

A novel approach to materials sustainability is also underway by DuPont Photovoltaics Solutions, of Wilmington, utilizing the testing equipment of Atlas Material Testing Solutions, of Chicago.

DuPont is building a large database of degraded materials characteristics from failed solar components in the field, through collection, testing and analysis, according to Kurt Scott, Atlas' director of renewable energy business development. "We want to help the solar industry avoid problems before they occur," says William Feehery, the global business director for the company's Photovoltaics Solutions unit.

One problem with materials degradation in the solar industry is that no single standard has emerged to measure materials performance, claims Andreas Riedl, director of global marketing for Atlas Material Testing Technology GmbH, based in Linsengericht-Altenhasslau, Germany. Atlas has been working with various solar industry regulatory bodies to help develop standards, but the process can be slow, he notes.

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