Technology tailwinds push solar power growth
For both solar and wind, new inverter technology is spurring increased renewable generation.
Phoenix, where I live and work is often referred to as the Valley of the Sun, an appropriate title considering our nearly-300 days of sun annually.
So it’s not surprising that Solar Impulse 1 stopped here in May 2013 during its “Across America” challenge, and Phoenix also will be the first continental US stop for Solar Impulse 2 when its circumnavigation of the globe resumes next year.
Here on the ground, the number of buildings being powered without a volt of purchased power continues to climb. There was a 30 percent jump in installed megawatts in 2014, bringing the country’s total count of solar homes and businesses to over 600,000.  There was a time when solar-power growth depended heavily on government subsidies, but no longer. Today, half of new solar generation is installed without incentives.
Cheaper, simpler, better technology is largely responsible for reaching that tipping point. The scale of solar deployment created cost-saving installation efficiencies and is pushing PV module prices down. I recently read a prediction calling for a nearly 25% decline in module prices between 2014 and 2018.
The demand for solar technology is also driving OEM innovation. Today’s inverters don’t just convert power. They are evolving to become the hub of solar-power systems, with the capability to monitor the system’s health and safety, and even regulate voltage on the surrounding grid. Ancillary components that used be connected to the inverter are increasingly built in, reducing installation and equipment costs.
Europe is a bit ahead of the US in some solar technology, but those innovations are heading our way. One of them is built-in battery storage. Inverters with built-in battery storage enable solar system owners to maximize the energy generated by their system, allowing it to be used at night, on cloudy days, or when grid power is unavailable.
Communications play an important role in renewables. At the utility level, ABB provides the communication systems required to manage a geographically dispersed network of distributed energy resources. Utility managers can rely on a steady stream of status data from residential and commercial solar resources feeding their network.
For homeowners, we’ve included Wi-Fi capability in inverters. Combined with the available app, this gives residential customers a portable power meter on their phone. For some system owners, this is just one more cool thing their phone does, but it provides practical information about energy generation, and alerts system owners to reduced output that could indicate a problem.
Currently in the US, there are strong tailwinds pushing increased solar deployment at residential, commercial, and utility scale. Continued innovation from technology providers like ABB are helping accelerate that deployment.