Tag: "inverter"

08/17/18

  03:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1210 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar, Energy Storage

What I Saw at Enphase - Mind Blown!

Enphase hqLast month during Intersolar, I (along with colleagues Sara and Victoria) was lucky enough to get invited to see a microgrid demonstration featuring the Enphase next-gen IQ8 at their headquarters in Petaluma, California.  As I had to sign an NDA as the price of admission, I was unable to write about what I had seen until today, when Enphase hosted their annual Analyst’s Day.  But I am no longer bound by that agreement, and can now tell you about what I saw. 

To say that I was impressed would be a gross understatement - quite simply, it was the most astonishing thing I have ever seen in the solar industry.  Settle in and let me tell you what I saw…

What Happens Today

Before I launch into describing the demo, let me remind you of what happens today.  All of the systems that we have installed are what is referred to as “grid-tied” which means that if the grid goes down, the PV system that is capable of back-feeding the grid also goes down, and remains down until the grid comes back.  (This is to prevent your house from being an island of energy, feeding the grid, and potentially injuring a worker trying to restore grid service.  As a result, this feature is known as “anti-islanding” and it is required of all inverter systems that are connected to the grid.)

Normally this is not a problem, but last month, when it got super hot out here (think 115° F hot!), both SCE and LADWP suffered dozens of outages, taking down PV systems across large swathes of LA County, and leaving frustrated PV owners without power, or A/C, just like their PV-less brethren.  Not good.

What I Saw in the Lab

Which brings us to what I saw at Enphase last month.

The lab looked like an ordinary industrial space, but with a series of household appliances and tools at one side.  There was a simulated array feeding a bank of IQ8 inverters, and a display that showed the output of the array (i.e., PV production), the total consumption from the loads, and any power being exported or imported to support those loads.  At the start of the demo the only load was a single red lamp, and the display indicated that it was drawing roughly 90 Watts.  The PV array was producing roughly 1.9 kWs, so the excess 1,800 Watts was being exported to the grid.  All super normal stuff.

But then things got interesting…

One of the engineers switched off the breaker that connected the PV array to the grid… and nothing happened!  Well, actually, a lot happened, but what didn’t happen was that the red light did not go off.  It didn’t even flicker to the extent that we could detect it.  But then when you looked at the display you noticed something amazing.  Not only had the microinverters created a grid on their own in fractions of a second, but they had throttled the output down so that now the production of the PV array exactly matched the load of the red light!  And here’s the kicker - there were no batteries attached to this system!!!

But what fun is just having a light on?  How about some toast?  So they switched on a toaster, and it lit up, and the total load jumped by about 1,000 Watts, making the total load now around 1.1 kW, and the PV array scaled up to meet it!  Still no batteries.  And how about this - there was no central controller, no master-slave relationship between the microinverters.  Rather, this was the “hive mind” at work, as the micros sensed the demand and scaled up or down as necessary to meet that load!

But wait, there’s more!

The next load to be added was a grinder like you might find on your workbench in the garage.  All by itself, that device drew roughly 1,200 Watts, bring our total load to roughly 2.3 kW - more than the maximum output of our simulated array.  What would happen when that was added to the mix?  Surprisingly little.  The grinder spun normally, but the red light dimmed slightly.  What was going on?  The system’s “hive mind” had lowered the voltage slightly (a microgrid equivalent of a brown out) to meet the amperage demand of the new load mix!  So slightly slower than normal, cooler than normal, dimmer than normal, but all operating.

Of course, all good things must come to an end.  Our already overloaded microgrid faced one more challenge - a vacuum cleaner with a significant in-rush current, far in excess of what the grid could sustain.  Indeed, as soon as they switched the vacuum cleaner to “on", everything shut off.  Nothing was damaged, the microinverters just shut off to protect themselves.

Turning on the vacuum cleaner served as the “ah-ha” moment for the potential homeowner - I guess I can’t run everything in grid outage mode.  So what do you do when something you just did produced an undesired result?  Well if you can, you undo it!  Turning the vacuum cleaner off, immediately restored the microgrid to its previous state of operation!  No delay.  No human intervention - just turn off that latest (over)load, and the system recovers on its own!

How cool is that?  Pretty damn cool, if you ask me!

Batteries Please?

So what about batteries, how do they play with this new system?  Just exactly as you would want.

The engineers added a bank of batteries to the mix, each with an IQ8 installed.  Now the display also indicated the battery’s overall state of charge, and whether they were charging or discharging.  Reset the demo to just the red light as a load and the batteries at 30% state of charge.  The PV array output jumped back to its maximum, with the surplus energy being used to charge the batteries.  As more loads were added, the PV array remained at maximum output, and as needed, drew power from the batteries.  Should the batteries reach full capacity and the PV output is greater than the loads, the microinverters will once again throttle down.

Sweet!

What’s Next?

I hope you agree that this was an amazing demo, and the IQ8 (or Ensemble, as Enphase refers to the overall system) has tremendous potential, both for Enphase as a company, and for so many nascent markets.  Think of how this product could have helped out in Puerto Rico, or in parts of Africa which have never, ever seen a grid!  Makes me want to book a trip to bring power to a village somewhere - hey Laurel, what do you say?

For our own clients, this has the potential to be the answer we have been seeking ever since Elon’s whoppers got people thinking about storage for the first time ever.

A point we raised with Enphase management is the need to have a reasonable upgrade path for existing clients.  Indeed, I have a call with Enphase tomorrow to discuss that very topic.  We know that current Enphase IQ products (the 6+ and 7+ we have been installing this year) will be compatible with Ensemble.  We expect to be able to work with older systems, though there may be a higher retrofit cost.  When we have that information, we will surely let you know!  The IQ8 is expected to be available in 1H2019… watch this space!

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03/18/11

  05:48:25 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 184 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power

Xantrex "Enhances" its Inverter Repair Procedure

We have written before about the Xantrex inverter recall and now we have learned that Xantrex is “enhancing” their field repair process by including new metal brackets “to be installed on the lower balance of system wiring box and at the top of the inverter… This enhancement further strengthens the enclosure.” This change in the field repair process means that customers who have already had their inverters “repaired” will need another service call to include the additional brackets.

But why make such a change after the repair process was well underway?  According to Xantrex: “The decision to implement these additional components as part of the installation has been made in consultation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission."  Nothing more is said about that consultation, or what additional issues the extra brackets are designed to fix.

The Xantrex notice that was sent out is linked to this post.

Hopefully this enhanced repair will make these inverters safe and the installers who have been waiting on parts to make these repairs will be able to move forward quickly to restore their customers’ systems to operation.

01/18/11

  04:00:53 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 352 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power

Xantrex announces inverter recall - Xantrex, Sunpower and GE brands - UPDATED

We have written before that solar power is not a Do-It-Yourself project because the voltages and currents associated with solar power systems can be dangerous if not handled properly.  Indeed, the central point of most solar power systems - the inverter - typically handles thousands of Watts of power, the literal product of hundreds of volts and ten to forty amps in a typical residential installation.  (Note: that is way more than enough to cause serious bodily harm or death if you cross it!)

Unfortunately, we have learned about a fairly extensive product recall regarding Xantrex inverters that have been marketed under the Xantrex, Sunpower and General Electric brands.  (Run on Sun has never installed or specified Xantrex inverters.)

[UPDATE - We understand that there is a fairly simple repair that a qualified technician can handle. If customers need assistance, they can contact us at Run on Sun (626-793-6025)  to schedule a repair.]

We understand from the attached Recall Notice that this is a voluntary recall on the part of the manufacturer and that it covers Xantrex GT series grid-tie inverters that were manufactured between September 2005 and August 2010.  (The image at the left is typical of the recalled inverters.) 
According to the recall notice:

A component of the inverter can degrade, causing out gassing within the wiring compartment of the inverter.  Should arcing occur, gasses could build and force the compartment cover to be blown off. If the cover is blown off with sufficient force it can injure the user or person [sic], or cause damage to property in close proximity to the inverter.

Here are the affected part numbers from the recall notice:

864-0002 864-0117 864-0128 864-0139 864-1006 864-1011 
864-0107 864-0118 864-0130 864-0140 864-1006-02 864-1012
864-0108 864-0119 864-0131 864-1001 864-1007 864-1013
864-0111 864-0124 864-0132 864-1001-02 864-1008 864-1014
864-0112 864-0125 864-0133 864-1002 864-1009 864-1015
864-0114 864-0126 864-0135 864-1004 864-1009-02 864-1016
864-0116 864-0127 864-0136 864-1005 864-1010 864-1018
864-1019 864-1021 864-1022 864-1032 864-1032-02
X-864-0002 X-864-0117 X-864-0128 X-864-0139 X-864-1007
X-864-0107 X-864-0118 X-864-0130 X-864-0140 X-864-1008
X-864-0108 X-864-0119 X-864-0131 X-864-1001 X-864-1009
X-864-0111 X-864-0124 X-864-0132 X-864-1002 X-864-1010
X-864-0112 X-864-0125 X-864-0133 X-864-1004 X-864-1011
X-864-0114 X-864-0126 X-864-0135 X-864-1005 X-864-1012
X-864-0116 X-864-0127 X-864-0136 X-864-1006 X-864-1013
X-864-1014 X-864-1015 X-864-1016 X-864-1018 X-864-1019
X-864-1021 X-864-1022 X-864-1032

If you believe that you might have one of the affected inverters, you should contact the company that installed your solar power system.  If they are no longer in business, you should contact Xantrex at 800-714-7176, M-F 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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