Improving Solar Panel Output with Optimizers

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Optimizers are made so that the installer or system owner can see the performance of each individual panel.
  3. 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.

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UN Report on Climate Change

A recent study determined that humans are causing irreversible damage to the planet from burning fossil fuels.  Unfortunately not everyone is thoroughly convinced that there is a high risk of widespread harm from rising global temperatures.  This risk could explain recent floods, droughts, and extinction of species and ocean acidification.  If carbon emissions continue to increase, these phenomenons will increase in frequency.  If humans can cut emissions quickly, we may be able to avoid such occurrences and maintain the health of our planet.

“We must act quickly and decisively if we want to avoid increasingly disruptive outcomes, “UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon told reporters in Copenhagen. He continued, “If we continue business as-usual, our opportunity to keep temperature rises below the target of 2 degrees Celsius will slip away within the next decades.”

This report of the study is intended to guide policy makers around the world to take the climate change into account when writing laws and regulations.  We need to protect our nation.  Currently 195 nations are working on an international agreement to decrease emission output.  The goal is to reach an agreement by December of 2015.   Another goal is to get to zero emissions by the end of the century, the estimated target number that could keep global warming below dangerous levels.  Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Institute, believes that “this requires a huge transformation, but it doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice economic growth.”

Five years of unpaid work by scientists resulted in this report. These scientists have filtered through research in all areas of global warming and comprised one document summarizing the most important findings.  The panel previously won a Nobel prize for their work carried out in 2007.   Now they are even more certain of the dangers of global warming.

“Continue emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.  Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks,” it says in the report.

Delegates from 120 nations went through the report in effort to make sure it would be easy to understand.  Sometimes the words in scientific findings can be a bit difficult to interpret.  Countries have been commenting on a draft of the text.  The study aimed to link three earlier reports by the panel.

Youba Sokona, one of the authors of the report said, “It is technically feasible to transition to a low-carbon economy.  What is lacking is appropriate policies and institutions.  The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”

Certain major companies such as Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell Pic claim they do not see a danger of their assets loosing a need in response to regulations aimed to prevent climate change.  Emissions-reduction measures would cut out 0.06% points off annual economic growth this century. Reduced climate change would also increase human health and standard of living.  Some other findings the panel came up with include:

  • Manmade greenhouse gas emissions have pushed atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide to levels ‘unprecedented’ in the past 800,000 years.
  • In order to cap the level of warming at 2 degrees Celsius since the 1800 requires no more than 2,900 billion tons of carbon dioxide.  We have already emitted two thirds of that as of 2011.
  • The global average sea level has risen by 19 centimeters since 1901.  It is likely to continue to rise.
  • The global average temperature has risen by 0.85 of a degree Celsius since 1880.  It is predicted to gain 0.3 degrees to 4.8 degrees this century.

As climate change accelerates, we experience economic damage as well.  Increase in temperature above pre-industrial temperatures cuts economic output.  It’s predicted that an increase of 2.5 degrees would cut economic output by about 2%.

The internationally agreed target is a global temperature raise of 2 degrees. Future scenarios with this temperature raise indicate there would be a quadruple of zero-carbon technologies in energy supply. Such energy supplies include wind and solar power, nuclear reactors and fossil fuels equipped with carbon capture.

Samantha Smith, leader of the climate program at environmental group WWF, claims cost reductions and performance improvements in renewables enable governments to decarbonize their economies at a price that is lower than ever.

Secretary of State, John Kerry, said the report sends a strong, important message.  More debate utilizes more resources and only prolongs us fixing anything.  “Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids,” John Kerry remarked in an e-mail.

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TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline

The proposed route of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline crosses directly through Great Sioux Nation (Oceti Sakowin) Treaty lands as defined by both the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties and within the current exterior boundaries of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation and Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

Tribal president Scott articulated the position of his people quite clearly.

“The House has now signed our death warrants and the death warrants of our children and grandchildren,” Scott said. “We are outraged at the lack of intergovernmental cooperation. We are a sovereign nation and we are not being treated as such. We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people,” he said

“The Lakota people have always been stewards of this land. We feel it is imperative that we provide safe and responsible alternative energy resources not only to tribal members but to non-tribal members as well. We need to stop focusing and investing in risky fossil fuel projects like TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. We need to start remembering that the earth is our mother and stop polluting her and start taking steps to preserve the land, water, and our grandchildren’s future.”

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Solar Market Insight

Quarter two of 2014 proved to be a success time for the solar market. Q2 2014 saw installation of PV systems increase 21% from the same quarter last year. As usually, utility sectors accounted for a majority of the quarter’s growth, with residential implementation of solar energy continuing to increase incrementally. The cost-effectiveness of solar energy is continually improving, which works to explain the increase in PV system installation in industrial and retail sectors. During quarter two, solar energy accounted 53% of all electricity generating capacity installed in the U.S., with natural gas accounting for 30%, wind accounting for 14%, and other resources accounting for 3%. What’s most significant about the electricity capacity installations results for quarter two is that coal accounts for 0%, a victory for the solar energy market, and a victory for renewable energy on the whole.

Although the residential use of solar power has only increased marginally, it’s presence in the solar market has been consistent. California continues to sit at the vanguard of the residential solar power consumer market, making up more than 50% of all residential PV system installations for the fourth quarter in a row. This number owes a lot of credit to the State of California for incentivizing solar energy use. However, PV system installation trends have increased in states without incentivizing programs as well. An important area of focus for the solar market continues to be the small commercial sector, which often lacks the initial resources to move to solar energy, despite the long-term benefit. Another few hurdles in reaching the small commercial sector are a lack of creditworthiness, site-specific requirements, and disproportionately high transaction costs. Because of this, much of the focus in the utility solar market has been on large corporations, who have access to greater resources and offer profitable and wide spread need. Though there’s always room for improvement, the solar market remains on the up and up, and pushes forward with optimism for the future of renewable solar energy.

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More Businesses Go Solar

As technology advances, harvesting solar energy is becoming a more practical and accessible option for businesses across a broad gamut of sizes, wealth, and locations. From major corporations to small, locally owned businesses, solar energy is becoming more prevalent year after year. Although this shift owes credit to wider awareness, proven effectiveness, and a higher consciousness of our own impact on the environment, a declining price on PV (photovoltaic) systems has spurred a lot of movement in the commercial adoption of solar energy. In fact, PV systems are 30% cheaper now than they were at the start of 2011, and commercial use of solar energy has increased over 40% in the last year.

It becomes clear that solar energy is a more cost effective option when Capitalist corporations like Wal-Mart, Costco, and Apple begin installing PV systems on their rooftops, and it’s refreshing to see an option that’s both cheaper and more eco friendly make it’s way into becoming the standard. Listed below are the top 25 companies in utilizing solar energy by solar capacity:

  1. Wal-Mart
  2. Costco
  3. Kohl’s
  4. Apple
  5. IKEA
  6. Macy’s
  7. Johnson & Johnson
  8. McGraw Hill
  9. Staples
  10. Campbell’s
  11. U.S. Foods
  12. Bed Bath & Beyond
  13. Kaiser Permanente
  14. Volkswagen
  15. Walgreens
  16. Target
  17. Safeway
  18. FedEx
  19. Intel
  20. L’Oreal
  21. General Motors
  22. Toys “R” US
  23. White Rose Foods
  24. Toyota
  25. Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Although California has a commanding lead in the implementation of solar energy, other states are picking up the on the trend quickly, with 117,000,000 people in 30 states living within 20 miles of a commercial solar installation. As it becomes more and more feasible to install the means for and save money by harvesting solar energy, we can expect to see more companies join the movement, and to see companies that already have begun using solar energy to do so more extensively.

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