What earns a “top product” its title?
While prepping for our annual Top Products issue, we had the opportunity to see many new solutions on display at the summer tradeshows. It’s easy to follow the crowds booth to booth, stopping to see the latest “ground-breaking” and “industry-changing” inverters, racking systems and more. We did see some cool heat-mapping drones, oversized modules and site assessment robots. But for this issue we tried to look past the marketing hype and got to thinking about what really makes a product great and revolutionary for solar contractors on the job every day.
Top products help contractors save money, which is beneficial to them and the industry. Dropping prices advance the solar industry in both technology and adoption. A recent NREL report found that the cost to install solar PV systems across all three markets—residential, commercial and utility—decreased in the first quarter this year, and prices are expected to keep falling. Costs dropped 6% in residential, 4% in commercial and 20% in utility-scale over the fourth quarter of 2015. And decreasing prices leads to more installations—GTM Research forecasts 13.9 GW of new solar PV installations to come online by the end of 2016, up 85% over 2015.
Along with increased competition and improved labor productivity, NREL cited that installation cost reductions were in part influenced by lower product prices and optimized system configurations. We think this can also be attributed to the small advances many manufacturers are taking to improve their products.
Other than price, we also see efficiency, safety and practicality as important features of top products. For example, bifacial solar cells allow modules to generate 25% more power without increasing their size. A cobalt-free battery chemistry removes thermal runaway and fire concerns from energy storage systems. Module leveling on ground-mount installations is quicker and easier with in-rack adjustability. Yield forecasting software that uses real-time weather conditions generates more accurate projections of PV power production. Small tweaks to established industry products can provide big advantages to installers and end-users alike.
Rather than just accepting advertising claims from the best in the industry, we took a deeper look inside the technologies that makes these products leaders in industry progress. We hope this gives everyone a greater understanding of the hard work and innovation going on behind the scenes to bring new and improved products to the exhibit floors of Intersolar North America and Solar Power International each year, and ultimately to more solar installations nation-wide.