Solar Innovations 2020
New solar energy innovations are being unveiled at Intersolar 2020 in San Diego this week, including the California launch of a concrete solar shingle, a unique under-the-panel battery storage configuration, and a single-axis tracker that can accommodate a 10% grade on undulating sites. And one forward-looking company is now buying up broken solar panels in expectation of mining the components for recycling.
The parade of international technology at the ISNA2020 show continues to demonstrate that the solar industry is getting technologically smarter while it thankfully gets cheaper. This is particularly good for both residential and commercial solar installs since utility-scale solar seems to have bottomed out with low-ball, long-term power purchase agreements.
An Integrated Concrete Solar Shingle Comes to California
One standout new offering at the trade show is the Ergosun solar shingle, which looks much like a slate roof tile, but can gather both direct and low-light sun rays. The waterproof concrete base is lapped to be waterproof and is sturdy enough to withstand major snow loads, like those in Norway, where the company recently performed its first install, according to Bruce Wintemute, Solarmass Energy’s chief operations officer.
The solar shingles generate 15 Watts per tile, which is a 60% gain in yield compared to a standard silicon wafer solar panel taking up the same square footage of space, the company claims. It features a patented two-piece junction box and comes in different colours.
The shingles are manufactured both in Canada and China for the US market and carry a warranty of 80% of peak power after 25 years. The Ergosun Integrated Solar Roof Tile was engineered in the UK and now generates power on homes in Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, South Africa, and Jamaica.
Yotta Energy Unveils Under-The-Panel Battery Storage
Startup Yotta Energy unveiled its SolarLeaf, a battery storage system located under a traditional solar panel, a modular Direct Current-based storage solution with smart passive thermal regulation to protect the batteries from high heat. The battery chemistry is based on the lithium-iron-phosphate solution that has extremely low chances of fire risk, and does not contain cobalt or magnesium that is present in other battery chemistries, notes Sean Walters, the director of business development for the company.
The SolarLeaf includes a built-in DC optimizer with wireless monitoring to manage both solar power generation and energy storage. The DC coupling means that no energy loss takes place as in systems where the DC current is converted to AC for household use, and then reconverted to DC to charge batteries, which involves an energy conversion efficiency loss of several percents in each stage. Since the battery is located under the panel, rather than being housed in a cabinet that might take up critical ground or wall space, it offers a unique solution for applications like carports, where battery cages on the ground could be bumper bait.
The Sunflower Solar Tracker Rides the Hills
Another innovation at the show is the addition of a ballast-mounted version of the Sunflower single axis tracker from RBI Solar, which can be installed on an undulating 10% grade. The tracker was launched just one year ago, but garnered 500 megawatts of installation during 2019, says Kevin Ward, the marketing manager of the company.
The precast concrete ballast version of the Sunflower permits installation over landfills, culturally sensitive sites, and other locations where ground penetration is either not desirable, or not permitted. The linkage of the patented gearbox for the tracker is positioned such that weight is carried by the post, rather than on the gear, which helps prevent the wind-induced torque that is referred to as “galloping” in the industry.
One advantage of the steep slope climbing capability of the tracker is that ground preparation costs are largely eliminated, opening up the geographic market for the technology to locations that previously would not have been considered suitable for a tracker system. The centralized tracker system accommodates up to 120 modules per row.
WeRecycleSolar Harvests Dead Solar Panels
A little-known fact in the solar industry is that the metallic and chemical components of solar panels would be considered hazardous, if the public were exposed to the compounds, points out Dwight Clark, the chief compliance officer for WeRecycleSolar, which is actively buying decommissioned solar panels at the show.
“About half of the state environmental agencies would classify solar panels as hazardous waste,” Clark says. “So we have developed a process to separate out the 98% of the components by weight and to provide them to the international market for commodities,” he says. WeRecycleSolar has just completed Phase One of its process testing, and hopes to begin commercial operation within four months. The limiting factor will be having enough panels on hand — or about 100 tons — to justify the recovery line, he says. One solar panel weighs roughly 50 pounds. The company has found a way to recover all the standard components of a solar panel except the plastic back sheet