Solar Power International 2016

By: Erika Karnitz, VP of Wholesale Sales

Solar Power International (SPI) 2016 was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center September 13-15th. David Katz and I braved the crowd and walked the maze of booths making up the show. There were over 17,000 attendees this year, a 10% increase from last year, and more than 600 exhibiting companies.

David having fun with lightsSimilarly to last year, there was a lot of focus on energy storage at SPI 2016. We saw many advanced battery technologies on display, including lithium ion, sodium ion, and nano carbon lead acid. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages in comparison to the flooded lead acid batteries that we are used to seeing in off grid applications.

There were several inverter companies introducing “storage” inverters, such as SMA. These inverters are different than an off grid inverter in that they are high voltage and they don’t function when the grid is down. They are designed mainly for commercial applications where peak shaving and load shifting makes financial sense to the customer.

Many module manufacturers have begun to produce “bi-facial” solar modules, which Solar World Bi-Facial Modulescan harvest more energy by capturing sunlight reflected off of the surface that the module is mounted on. Module manufacturers are reporting up to a 10% increase in output by using these in the proper conditions. Proper conditions would include having a reflective surface (white EDM roof etc) and a tilt up rack that allows the reflected light to be exposed to the back of the module.

Erika and smartflowerModule manufacturers are always striving to achieve better efficiency. Some techniques we saw being employed were using more bus bars and using half cells. The idea behind both of these strategies is that more electrons are able to pass through.

SPI is mainly geared toward larger distributors and installers but we always manage to find some new products that we think will be interesting to our customers. We saw two new inverters that will be available in 2017 that Backwoods will be excited to offer.

Midnite Solar MNB17-5 – The MNB17Midnite B17-5, Erika and David Katz-5 has 5 bays in which you can configure your
system components. Each bay holds one inverter or charge controller module. It is a very customizable product, and the first we have seen with multiple inverter modules and charge controllers that can be “hot swapped” in the field if servicing is required. It will work in off-grid, battery backup grid tie, and self-consumption applications.

Outback SkyBoxOutback Power SkyBox/SkyBoss- The SkyBox is an all in one hybrid energy system. It includes the inverter, charge controller, battery, and energy management system (SkyBoss) all in one enclosure. Unlike many of the grid tie/storage inverters we have seen, the SkyBox allows for use as a straight grid tie anDavid chatting up Outbackd can be upgraded later to include storage. The SkyBoss management system allows for advanced programming and load prioritization with the goal of optimizing your energy distribution.

Another item that we saw at SPI that may be interesting to our customers is a ready-made awning bracket. Solar awnings can be a great way to reduce solar gain and harvest energy at the same time. These hand welded in the USA awning brackets are aesthetically pleasing and can be bolted directly to your structure. They are available in 3 tilt angles to best Fronius Boothaccommodate your geographic location.

We love going to these large trade shows and meeting with our valued manufacturing partners and customers and deepening those relationships. We also love to check out all the new technologies so that we can keep our customers up-to-date with what is happening out there in the big wide solar world. Perhaps our favorite part though, is returning from the big city and getting back to the woods.

Visit our site to learn more about the products we viewed this year:

Updated: New Battery Technology for Solar Panels in Sub-Zero Temperatures

New battery technology for solar panels is always exciting news. Get ready for this battery technology perfect for sub-zero temperature installation sites: Silicon Salt is here.

Proper system design is paramount in off grid living. Choosing a battery technology that makes sense for the location, environmental concerns, access to the site and experience of the end user all play a role. One of the biggest challenges many of our customers face is temperature. How to mitigate capacity loss in colder climates is a question we hear quite often. So, we decided to use our Canadian branch to market test a new battery technology being referred to as Silicon Salt.

These batteries feature an electrolyte of an ultra-micro composite silicon salt forming solution giving them a smaller resistance ratio of 2 mili-ohm, twelve to thirteen times smaller than that of the lead-acid battery (lead-acid batteries are 25 mili-ohm and greater). Because this resistance is so low they are able to be heavily charged and discharged in an astounding temperature range of -40 degrees F up to 158 degrees F.

We have been testing them in various configurations. Currently, we have over 90 of these batteries in 11 systems with regular monitoring and communication from the owners. Our testing is covering small two battery 12V banks for telecom towers to large 48V grid-connected back-up systems and everything in between. They are located outside at fully exposed projects and inside various non-insulated power sheds as well as in insulated garages.

This new maintenance free Silicon Salt storage technology is being widely used by the Military, Telecommunications (UPS), GPS, Computer backup, Electric Vehicles (EV), Hospitals backup power, Airports, and many other applications in many countries. They are being readily used in these industries due to their low maintenance cost and excellent safety.

At this point we have found the claims regarding temperature to be valid. We are not seeing freezing or issues with capacity loss as expected with lead acid batteries. We have also found that after being fully charged and stored for 2 years they have retained 80% of their charge. The only claim we haven’t been able to substantiate quite yet is the longevity claim of 17-20 years. Our Canadian and U.S. testing time period has covered only a two years now.

In evaluating these batteries for living off the grid, we spoke with other testing facilities that have been running them a bit longer at five years. “After running them pretty hard we popped the top off and they looked brand new. There was no sulfation on the plates.” This is likely due to the ultra-micron composite silicon salt forming solution being neutral and thus unable to erode the plates inside.

We are excited to be carrying these batteries for all of these reasons. Obviously, the amazing claims need to be substantiated but so far, so good in our opinion. Additionally, due to the non-toxicity of the materials, they do not require an MSDS for shipment and are considered non-hazardous. They ship typical freight with no additional charges or exceptions. Also, they work well with other components currently on the market. There is no need for a sophisticated battery management system and most charge controllers, set at a sealed battery charging perimeter, work seamlessly with these batteries.

If you are working in sub-zero temperatures these may be a good fit for you. Give us a call for a free custom design of a system with this new and exciting Silicon Salt storage technology. We have them in stock and ready to go for your needs this winter.

UPDATE FROM OUR FRIENDS IN CANADA – MARCH 2016   We have been selling the Silicon Salt battery here in BC Canada for about 3 years. There are over 150 of these batteries installed here to date. There have been no failures in any installation with the exception of one 2V cell which was bad out of the box. It was replaced immediately.

I was skeptical about the claims of the manufacturer about the battery but so far they have met all of stated expectations and more.   The big issue for solar users here in Canada is freezing. The low sun months come with temperatures well below 0 degrees F (sometimes way below 0 degrees F). Low sun hours during those months can cause serious issues with off grid systems. Lead acid batteries will freeze at 32 degrees at 50% charge. This requires attention to the battery and often long hours of generator charging to maintain a state of charge adequate to offset freezing. The -40F freeze point for the Silicon Salt battery is a tremendous relief for solar users in cold weather.

A customer here ordered 12 of the 2volt 500 AH Silicon Salt cells. They were delivered to the site and the owner was called away for medical reasons and the battery sat outside exposed all winter with temperatures below 10 degrees F. When the battery was installed and tested 2 weeks ago (still freezing out) the voltage, under load, tested perfectly at 26.4 volts. We have heard similar comments from other customers.   The local Internet provider has been using the Silicon Salt (SI) batteries for the past 2 years. They have remote (unheated) microwave repeater sites using a variety of voltage SI batteries (the 6 V 220 AH, 12 V 100 AH, and 2 V 500AH). We are happy to report that they have ordered more!

Each week is busier than the last helping the Kootenays region to become energy independent.   Thank you Bob and Cheryl! If you are in British Columbia and would like to visit our showroom in Canada please contact Cheryl and Bob at 250-366-4459 or



This is the Super Ventilation Fan you’ve been looking for!

Large DC Super Fan - Solar Panels - Backwoods Solar
The S is for Super because it’s packing  a powerful brushless motor.

Looking for a new DC ventilation fan? Backwoods is now manufacturing, here in the USA, a brushless 16 inch, 12/24 V ventilation fan. Our fan is designed to meet your needs every season, either in the greenhouse or as an attic install. Intended for use with 12 volt or 24 volt solar panels as low as 30 watts up to 280 watts and can be used in conjunction with 24 volt battery banks. It will also perform with 285-300 watt,  72 cell modules with open circuit voltages of 44 volts. The F16-Plus is protected from moderate over-voltage and thermal fluctuations.

The Super Fan has been tested through a variety of panel and voltage configurations. We recommend three configurations for “small”, “medium”, and “large” applications. “Small”: all 12 volt panels; a 30 watt solar module will provide an airflow of about 9 mph. “Medium”: a 60 watt will produce up to 17 mph. “Large”: a 135 watt or larger solar module will hit 18 mph and faster.

The best thing about our new DC Super Fan is the brushless motor. Motor brush replacements were common on previous fans especially if they were run at high RPM’s. With no brushes the F16-Plus will outperform other fans. Solve your circulation issue with this solar direct solution! Check it out here