Much Better Solar Photovoltaics On the Way

Startup Enphase Energy of Petaluma, CA, is now making its first micro-inverters.  The small inverters can be bolted to the racking under each of an installation’s solar panel to convert DC power into AC for each panel individually. The company claims that the devices will increase a PV system’s efficiency by 5 to 25 percent and decrease the cost of solar power.

Enphase has already teamed with various distributors and partners, including solar module manufacturer Suntech Power Holdings and installer Akeena Solar, to bring its device to customers.  The micro-inverters can be used on residential, commercial, or even utility-scale photovoltaic systems.

There’s much more to solar power than black glassy panels glistening on rooftops.  Perhaps more important now that installations and real world testing is well underway and understood is the inverter performance that convert DC power created by the solar panels into grid-ready AC power.

Currently all the panels in a rooftop photovoltaic system are connected to one large inverter mounted on the side of a house from which the AC power is off loaded to the house or grid.  This is being done as solar panels are wired together in series, and their combined high-voltage DC power is fed to the inverter. From that current flow the inverter’s logic circuit optimizes the total current and voltage levels. But if one panel’s current drops, it becomes the limit of the overall output of the system.

SolarPanel Microinverter by Enphase
SolarPanel Microinverter
by Enphase

Leesa Lee, director of marketing at Enphase points out the problem, “Something as simple as a leaf blowing over a module, or dust or debris or shade on one module, will affect the entire array of all those modules that are connected in series.”  Think bird poop and all the other things falling out of the sky as major problems, but mostly canceling the equality of each panel, that forces production to the least efficient module.  It’s a bigger problem than many realize.

But Enphase’s micro-inverters individually optimize the voltage-current levels at each panel. That uses the most power from each panel and then adds the panels together, increasing the system’s efficiency. “Any problem on a module is limited to that module alone,” Lee says. In addition, the equipment cost for micro-inverters is about 15 percent less than the cost for a traditional system, she says, because expensive DC components, such as signal combiners and disconnects, can be replaced with off-the-shelf AC parts.

Enphase Micro Inverter Points. Click image for a larger view.
Enphase Micro Inverter Points

The problem has been known for decades so the concept of small inverters has been around for more than a decade, but there have been technical challenges to making practical devices. Enphase’s Senior Director for Systems, Mary Dargatz says,  “One of the biggest stumbling blocks to micro-inverter technologies in the past has been conversion efficiency.” So, Enphase has converted many analog parts in the circuits to digital to make the inverter smaller without sacrificing efficiency. The conversion efficiency of an individual micro-inverter is 95.5 percent, on par with efficiencies of traditional large inverters, which range from 94 to 96 percent.

Seems odd, doesn’t it?  The most costly part of a system is hooked up in a 40 year old design that cuts down on the output.  It’s a habit from the 1960s when inverters were very expensive.  Now with micro-inverters on can add to a system without making the inverter, the second most expensive part obsolete. It may be that the micro inverters can be used to upgrade older systems as well.  Enphase offers a long list of downloads to assist owners and installers with analyzing and assessing how the new micro inverter can be used. Its well worth looking over.

Going partway in an attempt to address a broader voltage range, National Semiconductor is making a power-optimizing module for individual panels.  The device only has the logic circuit for optimizing current and voltage levels–it doesn’t do the DC-to-AC power conversion.  What it offers in conversion efficiency looks to be meant for existing installations.

Enphase uses its AC output and ease of connection to offer another service to backup the sale.  The full kit would allow a consumer to send data in for analysis and receive reports via the Internet.  Beyond that, the potential exists for rationing power, if the situation allows, to divide one’s output say for use in the home and for sale.

It all makes for a much more practical implementation of solar arrays with photovoltaic collector panels.  A drop in panel costs, now a drop in inverter cost and a simpler installation should help get home and small commercial arrays more deeply down into the economy where more people can afford the investment.  That more mass market, which should reduce prices as well.

Which brings us to what might be the most important advantage of all.  With the Enphase micro-inverter one can start small and add modules or panels as the budget (or incentives) allow.  Now that’s a path to help build more market, too.  Growth looks good for photovoltaic.

Here is the original post: New Energy and Fuel

NEW: Home Controls Now Offers AirVac Motors

LNAVR7500 BAVP12000

The best part of an AirVac central vacuum system is what it doesn’t have: noise, inconvenience, and dust. Much less dust left behind – in your rugs, on your furniture, in the air and in your family’s lungs. Traditional vacuum cleaners allow too much dust to recirculate – on your rugs, on your furniture, throughout your home. The result: indoor air pollutant levels two to five times – and in some cases 100 times higher – than outdoor levels.

AirVac Central Vacuum Systems previously manufactured by M&S Systems are now manufactured by Linear LLC. M&S Systems has been an industry leader in the design and manufacture of built-in, electronic home amenities for over 50 years.

AirVac Red Series: The AirVac Red Series Bagless Central Vacuum System is a bagless central vacuum power unit. The Bagless Central Vacuum System is modular in design with nested components that reduce storage space and shipping costs. The nested design also simplifies handling, installation and service.

AirVac Blue Series: The AirVac Platinum Series Disposable Bag Central Vacuum System is a disposable bag central vacuum power unit. It is modular in design with nested components that reduce storage space and shipping costs. The nested design also simplifies handling, installation and service.

AirVac Accessories: Home Controls also carries a vast collection of tools, hose and replacement parts.

Post written by: Home Controls

New energy efficient lighting options

I ran across a company last week called MaxLite. They had some extremely cool new lighting products that could be very applicable to the industrial and commercial electrical supplies market. I want to say upfront that I have not seen any of these products in a working environment, but I have seen the products work in a demo situation.

First, Maxlite has a high lumen CFL (compact fluorescent) for use as a field replacement for metal halide lamps all the way up to 400w (yes, 400w!). How it works is you replace the 175, 250, or 400w HID lamp with the high lumen CFL. The CFL typically seems to run about half the watts as the HID lamp. You bypass the HID ballast inside the ballast housing and, BAM, you have cut your watts in half without replacing the fixture.

Seems to good to be true huh? It seems very intriguing but there are a few things to consider. First, the lamp life is rated around 10,000 hrs. This is pretty low compared to HID or the other option of replacing the entire fixture with 46,000hr T8’s. Also the temperature rating is around 100 or 120 deg F which will be an issue in some areas and applications.

They did a very nice design with an integral heatsink and cooling fan, but be sure to consider the worst case temperature when looking at this. I think this could be a viable option for some circumstances, just be sure to look at all the application angles. T8 and T5 linear high bays or even 320w metal halide with pulse start will probably be a better choice for most applications, but this could be a fit for some.

They also have some other neat products, LED PAR replacements, LED light bars and my favorite…… a 2×4 LED lay-in fixture. This is the first LED 2×4 I have personally seen that works. It is not a bunch of LED’s formed to fit in T8 lamp sockets like some others have tried, it is an actual flat array of LED’s. Also, the profile is very, very slim, which is great for retrofit applications. The light output seemed adequate and the color seemed fine too.

The price is up there for the 2×4 and also the 2×2 (yes, they have a 2×2). They are probably selling in the field for around $600 for a 2×4. I’m not sure how many will be sold at that price, but it is an interesting option for those that are hooked on LED’s. Be sure to check them out or call your local lighting distributor for info. Maxlite.com

Here is the original post: Industrial Electrical Productions

Can Government Make a Disaster From Nothing at All?

IHS Global Insight of Massachusetts under a contract from the American Petroleum Institute has rolled out its report about the consequences of a Federal takeover of the regulations from states overseeing the oil and gas well finishing process called “hydraulic fracturing.”

Before we start, hydraulic fracturing is packing water, some solvents, and strong sand and special chemicals into the rocks thousands of feet down so that oil and gas can flow back out.  It’s a kind of miniature, slow motion cracking of the rocks much further out from the little well hole.  One could also call it an explosion, but it takes hours, running into days to build up the pressure, to get some cracking and pack the sand into the fissures.  It turns a little hole into solid rock into a hole in lots of little rocks.

It’s just critical to keep this technology in use and further development.

Hydraulic fracturing has a 50 year history beginning with quite simple pressure buildups to today’s highly sophisticated multi directional wells in rocks that only a half decade or so ago were considered hopeless repositories of petroleum.  Today, using hydraulic fracturing a well or even a set of wells can release huge quantities of natural gas.  This can easily be seen in the natural gas price at the home meter to fertilizer for food and investments in even more production.  In the coming months more technology is coming and is being blended with technology that looks into the earth to guide where more effort should be applied.

All that, the potential and the world’s lowest prices of natural gas for Americans are at risk from a disaster of rearranging (and adding) regulations.  The Federal proposal is so bad that the amazing situation of business preferring a single regulatory framework over 50 regulations from the states is not preferable.  Yup, government can make a disaster from nothing at all, which isn’t amazing at all.

The matter is a fully Democrat sponsored attempt to place regulations of the Safe Drinking Water Act thousands of feet down below any source of water for human use.  The bills, a House version and the Senate versions are very similar, which cautions one to realize this is a concerted attempt to subvert the existing framework of petroleum operations and regulations into a whole new field of bureaucratic interference.

Just to make things worse, the Feds propose not to unify regulations; they want to ADD a Federal layer.  IHS Global Insight’s study, “Measuring the Economics and Energy Impacts of Proposals to Regulate Hydraulic Fracturing,” predicts the number of new U.S. wells drilled would plummet 20.5 percent in the first five-year period.  That would potentially reduce natural gas production by about 10 percent from 2008 levels by 2014, a mere 5 years out.

Remember the last marginal buyer’s impact on prices?  Carving off 10% of supply isn’t going to be cheap for heating homes, running business and industry or generating electricity.  Someone is passing put stupidal capsules in D.C.

There are problems, to be sure. In the fight last month the Ground Water Protection Council released a study that finding regulation of oil and gas field activities, including hydraulic fracturing, is best accomplished at the state level where regional and local conditions are best understood and where state regulators are on hand to conduct inspections and oversee specific operations like well construction, testing and plugging.

The Ground Water study is an excellent piece to grasp what’s been going on and raises the issue about why the Feds are digging here for more power anyway.  The history and background discussed go far to understand the process and that a few states are behind.

Is it serious?  If you live over a leaking well it is, but those aren’t so common as many would have us believe.  What is an issue is the control and enforcement of the law on the books.  Some states do lack enough oversight.  Arguments over who is to pay for control and cleanup is usually in the domain of lawyers consuming time and often more money than the clean up.  Drives people nuts, understandably, but is more regulation and economic costs the answers to the problems?

Today in the U.S., where over 95 percent of wells are routinely treated using fracturing, the impact of eliminating hydraulic fracturing on production would be “permanent and severe,” the IHS report notes.  The production slippage would be significant.  Part of the new regulations is to restrict the types of materials used to fracture rock.  You and I both know better than to think any Congressperson(s) can better decide what’s appropriate to use.  But IHS has figured that the proposed regulations would impact gas production falling 4.4 trillion cubic feet or 22 percent, while oil production could slip 400,000 barrels per day or 8 percent.  These are major numbers, tearing out more than the marginal buyers, driving prices to unpredictable new highs.

API President Jack Gerard said, “More than one million wells have been completed using this technology. Unnecessary regulation of this practice would only hurt the nation’s energy security and threaten our economy.”  That’s public relations nicety comment.

In raw numbers the study found elimination of the use of hydraulic fracturing would be catastrophic to the development of American natural gas and oil, with a 79 percent drop in well completions, resulting in a 45 percent reduction in natural gas production and a 17 percent reduction in oil production by 2014.  Those are real American jobs.

Everyone world wide would be affected.  Today the U.S. is a very small importer of natural gas.  The proposed bill would certainly change that forcing the U.S. into the world natural gas market in a big way.  No one, other than some special interests, injured parties frustrated at state responsiveness and a raft of natural gas exporters stands to gain.  And the last ones to benefit would be the injured Americans, anyway.  Just imagine the resentment of the world at the U.S closing in even more production.  This is a way past being a stupid proposal.

But in the end the IHS report is a model, but it’s formed up from real numbers from a solid historical database asking trends from the elimination of components.  Not a particularly complex or difficult problem. “When 95% of current wells could not be drilled the impact would be” isn’t real hard to grasp.  Debating over even double digit errors still leaves the economy in a huge disaster.

The geothermal folks better wake up on this too.  Hydraulic fracturing is going to become important in the geothermal field soon.

So I have to ask myself, what are the side effects from stupidal capsules? Sleeping better, better vigor and health, ah, making more money?  There’s a motive in there begging for a journalist’s investigation.  It won’t happen, it’s too incredible to believe to start with, but it is a proposed bill.  Yup, government can make a disaster from nothing at all.  Just pass around some campaign money and stupidal capsules.


Here is the original: New Energy and Fuel