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.
Similarly 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 can 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.
Module 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 MNB17-5 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 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 and 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 accommodate 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: www.backwoodssolar.com