Saturday, February 19, 2022

Solar Energy Trends to Watch Out For


Image by andreas160578 from Pixabay

(Guest post by Enrique Hormillo)

There’s never been a better time to adopt solar energy than today. Having solar panels installed in homes and offices is now more affordable than it was 20 years ago, with numerous companies offering quality products and services in this booming industry.

Moreover, people are becoming more aware of the dangers that traditional sources of power present. For example, 2020 registered hotter average temperatures than the average 20th-century records. The constant threat of global warming looms more prominently with each passing day.

Suppose you’re interested in installing solar panels in your home or office. In that case, it pays to learn about the latest trends surrounding the use of solar power. Having a good idea of the current landscape for solar energy can help you make worthwhile purchases and improve your quality of life in the long run.

Some of these trends can immediately transform how you benefit from using solar energy. It’s also possible you won’t immediately see how solar power can directly affect your day-to-day activities. However, you can be sure that solar energy will play a vital role in residences, offices, and other essential facilities in the coming years.

Trend 1: Solar Energy Costs Will Continue to Drop

While it is still not the most popular mode of power generation worldwide—only 2% of the United States’ overall electricity generation is solar-powered—it’s hard not to expect solar energy to become the preferred mode in the long run.

One of the biggest reasons behind this is the technology is continuously improving. Therefore, a better way of producing solar power is always being developed day in and day out. You can expect these methods to be more cost-efficient than their predecessors.

Another reason for this is the amount of available supply. While oil reserves will eventually run out, solar power will always be a stable source of power that can provide electricity for generations to come.

Trend 2: Increased Installation of Solar Shingles

This trend is somewhat connected to the previous one, as lower prices mean more people becoming enticed to try getting solar panels for their property. Therefore, expect more people to bring this technology to their homes or buildings should the first trend become more prevalent.

The price of solar panels in the Philippines shows encouraging signs for interested individuals and companies. While panels that generate decent electricity can cost you more than PHP 10,000, there are affordable alternatives to help more people get into the movement.

Trend 3: Europe Will Look to Adopt Renewable Energy More in the Coming Years

As the pandemic reduced the overall power demand, various countries in Europe have looked to incorporate more solar farms into their power grid. With 40% of the continent’s electricity coming from renewable sources, it paints an encouraging picture of how the world would look like if powered by renewable energy.

Of course, there’s an entirely different conversation to be had when all industries resume 100% operations and go back to full power. Still, the fact that the EU managed to pull this off provides a blueprint for the world to follow.

Trend 4: There Will Be Jobs in Solar Energy

As prices for installing and maintaining solar energy systems become more affordable, the demand will naturally increase. This increase in demand only means that there will be more solar panel installation jobs, which necessitates openings for solar panel installers.

This trend is much-needed for an economy that is still recovering from the blows it incurred amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With 81 million people in the Asia Pacific region alone losing their jobs due to the pandemic, having more industries that can generate work is surely a welcome change.

Trend 5: Climate Change Will Drive Interest Towards Solar Power

It’s an unfortunate reality, but climate change is driving more people to switch to solar power and other renewable forms of energy. As temperatures continue to rise and sea levels increase, there will be a more concerted effort to use renewable energy to protect the planet.

Why You Should Switch to Solar Energy

There are plenty of reasons why making the switch from traditional power generation to solar energy is an excellent choice. Of course, the most obvious reason for the change is its environmental impact. Still, it also positively affects other aspects of our lives.

The first perk we will get from solar energy is the lessened levels of air pollution that are produced due to the burning of fossil fuels. Solar power also reduces the water used during the process, which gives people more water to drink and use.

Besides protecting our planet, switching to solar energy also lessens our dependence on non-renewable energy sources. They also help us save money in the long run as it cuts our utility bills. Finally, the industry will create jobs for people around the world.

Make the Switch Today

There’s never been an easier time to cut on your power bills than today. With solar energy becoming more and more popular, installing it in your home or business will become more affordable over time.

Indeed, it’s safe to say the earth and your wallet will thank you for using solar energy.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Pearl Homes is Building Eco-Homes Powered by Solar Plus Sonnen EcoLinx Energy Storage


                             Image credit:

Pearl Homes is a Florida-based company that focuses on building ultra-modern eco-luxury homes. Pearl Homes has just broken ground on Hunters Point, to build the luxury home community in Cortez, Florida. The project includes 86 eco-friendly, single-family homes powered by approximately 6-kW solar plus sonnen ecoLinx energy storage systems. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Hunters Point debuted online and 70% of the homes have already been sold.

The Pearl Homes ECOsystem has a network of sustainable suppliers and contributors that enable Pearl Homes to construct environmentally friendly and self-sustaining homes that are highly competitive on the market today. Pearl Homes fully recognize the need and importance of climate action, so in cooperation with Sonnen and various eco-friendly suppliers, they offer buyers a high-tech eco-home that both reduces the total cost of ownership and minimizes each home's carbon footprint.

Sonnen is a German energy storage provider and a global leader in innovative, intelligent, and safe battery technology for the residential market. The sonnen ecoLinx is one of the most advanced home battery solutions. The storage system manages power distribution throughout the home and works with rooftop solar panels to provide Pearl Homes residents with direct access to configurable emergency backup power and sophisticated energy management. The lithium-iron-phosphate cobalt-free battery technology in ecoLinx is safe and sustainable, easy-to-install, long-lasting, competitively-priced, and offers Pearl Homes buyers and residents an industry-leading 15,000 cycles/15-year warranty.

Hunters Point is designed to be power company-ready and includes the sonnen Virtual Power Plant (VPP) platform that will allow Florida Power and Light (FPL) to manage the reserve power generated by the community as needed. In addition to integrating with utility control software to provide grid services, such as demand response and load management excess, stored solar energy can also be used to power the lighting in community common areas.

"Our adoption of the sonnen ecoLinx makes the Hunters Point homes more energy-efficient," said Pearl Homes founder Marshall Gobuty. "With it, our buyers will be able to automate their home energy management in the most modern way that compliments the unique style and design of the Pearl Home."

The sonnen ecoLinx can be optimized and managed by a mobile app for backup, peak period, and solar usage and to monitor energy on demand. "Between the sonnen mobile application and the Google Nest in-home automation for temperature controls, Hunters Point buyers will be able to enjoy a healthier, cleaner, and unparalleled quality of life well lived in the world's first LEED NetZero community," added Gobuty.

Pearl Homes company aims to achieve NetZero Plus by reaching the highest USGBC's LEED ranking in their housing developments in Florida and California. To accomplish the goal, the company uses energy-efficient design, works with sustainably focused suppliers, and builds entirely solar-powered homes.

"Hunters Point is the first non-utility based residential Virtual Power Plant (VPP) ever established in Florida through the aggregation of individual solar systems being paired with sonnen ecoLinx energy storage systems," said Jim Spano, Executive Chairman of My-Resi, the leaders in energy resilience and virtual power plant development. "The inclusion of grid-tied sonnen ecoLinx systems delivers Hunters Point residents with resilient backup power and greater energy management, while also providing a dispatch-able energy services platform to support grid stability when needed."

Besides the installation of the sonnen ecoLinx energy storage system, all Pearl Home projects are also designed and built to be self-sustaining and eco-friendly. The homes incorporate WaterSense plumbing and fixtures to minimize waste and reduce environmental impact. The specified GE's EnergyStar appliances require a minimal amount of power. And the Google Nest thermostats help homeowners manage and monitor the temperature to control their homes' air conditioning and heating for maximum comfort.

"Marshall and his team at Pearl Homes are at the forefront of NetZero, LEED-based home building," said Blake Richetta, Chairman and CEO, sonnen, Inc. "From our first discussions about Hunters Point to today, sonnen has been amazed at the forward-thinking ideas behind the Pearl Homes and their dedication to providing the most high-quality, energy-efficient, and environmentally advanced homes on the market today. Our ecoLinx intelligent energy storage system is the ideal solution for a project like Hunters Point. It offers unique, industry-leading software capabilities to empower homeowners to take control of their energy consumption and manage backup power while also providing critical energy services to the larger community and local utility grid."

Monday, May 31, 2021

“City of the Future” Powered by Solar Panels and Hydrogen Fuel Cells in Japan



An artist's view of Toyota's smart city. Toyota

The construction of a sustainable “city of the future” called the Woven City, is a piece of interesting news that comes from Japan. The prototype city, announced last year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, will be powered by solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells.

In 2020, the world’s largest automaker Toyota has revealed plans to build a prototype “city of the future”, covering 75- acres on the site of a factory that is due for closure, at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan. On February 23, 2021, a groundbreaking ceremony took place to mark the start of the project’s construction. “The Woven city project officially starts today,” said Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda.

The former Higashi-Fuji car factory of Toyota Motor East Japan is being transformed into a new smart city. The city (about 60 miles from Tokyo) will become a living laboratory for self-driving vehicles, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes, and artificial intelligence. Woven City would be home to about 2,000 full-time residents, mainly Toyota employees and their families, retired couples, retailers, and researchers who will be able to test and develop technologies. Scientists, engineers, and researchers from around the world are also invited to come work on their projects in a real-world environment.

"We welcome all those inspired to improve the way we live in the future, to take advantage of this unique research ecosystem and join us in our quest to create an ever-better way of life and mobility for all," said Akio Toyoda.

The name Woven City comes from the three different types of streets in the city: one for self-driving vehicles, one will be shared by pedestrians and slower personal mobility devices like e-scooters, bikes, Toyota's i-Walk, and one for pedestrians only. These three types of streets, will “weave together into a woven grid of 3 x 3 city blocks... each framing a local park or courtyard”. There will also be one underground road used to transport goods. In a city with no private cars, the transportation, deliveries, and retail will be sustained via e-Palettes – Toyota self-driving vehicles.

Toyota has a plan to integrate nature throughout the city with native vegetation and hydroponics - a method of growing plants without soil. A large central park for recreation, neighborhood parks, and a central plaza are designed to bring the community together. Toyota believes that encouraging human interaction in natural meeting places will be an equally important part of this project.

The grandson of the carmaker’s founder Akio Toyoda described the utopian vision as his “personal field of dreams”. “With people, buildings and vehicles all connected and communicating with each other through data and sensors, we will be able to test connected AI technology... in both the virtual and the physical realms... maximizing its potential," said Akio Toyoda.

According to the company’s plans, residents of Woven City will live in “smart homes”, with in-home robotics to assist with daily life and sensor-based artificial intelligence to monitor their health. These “smart homes” will take advantage of full connectivity using sensor-based AI to automatically restock your fridge or take out your trash.

The community of the futuristic city will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and buildings and use internet technology in practically every aspect of daily life. Toyota said the city will be “fully sustainable”, with buildings made mostly of wood to minimize the carbon footprint. “The rooftops will be covered in photovoltaic panels to generate solar power in addition to power generated by hydrogen fuel cells.” Below ground will be hydrogen power storage and water filtration systems.

In this smart city project, Toyota is partnering with ENEOS, a leading hydrogen energy company, with 45 commercial hydrogen refueling stations in major cities in Japan.

Japan has ambitious plans to be entirely carbon-neutral by 2050 and the government hopes hydrogen can help to achieve their goals. Toyota unveiled the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car in 2014 and launched its second-generation Mirai (Japanese for “future”) last year.

The smart cities concept is not something new to Japan. Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town was built on the site of an old Panasonic factory and was opened in 2014. The town is home to about 2000 people. Every house has installed solar panels and it is also equipped with smart monitoring systems. Thus, residents can monitor their energy consumption both at home and on a community-wide level. Fujisawa was certified as a “Business for Promoting Town Development in Harmony with the Environment” by Kanagawa Prefecture.

Another example of a Japanese eco-city is Kashiwa-no-ha. The town’s smart grid facility includes one of Japan’s biggest lithium-ion storage cell systems, as well as solar and emergency gas-powered generators. The city, besides environmentally friendly, is also proclaimed as a city ”where people of all ages can enjoy a healthy and secure life”.

The Woven City is one of a few innovative projects for a smart city of the future currently underway in Japan. The Woven City was designed by Bjarke Ingels, the Danish architect whose architecture studio BIG designed the 2 World Trade Centre building in New York and Google’s offices in Silicon Valley and London.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

How to Choose the Right Solar Inverter for Your Solar Power System (Part 2)


inverter solar power system
Photo by William Mead from Pexels

There are three types off-grid (also known as stand-alone) solar inverters according to the output waveform of the voltage – pure sine wave, quasi (modified) sine wave, and square wave. 

Pure sine wave inverter has the output waveform of the voltage like a sine wave and this form of electrical output is the same as you will find coming from the utility grid. Modified sin wave inverter has the output waveform not exactly sine wave but it resembles the shape of a sine wave.

Pure sine wave inverter has many advantages over modified sine wave inverter. Pure sin wave inverters can run all electrical home appliances effectively. They are necessary for sophisticated electronics, like a fancy new television or gaming console, fluorescent lights and dimmers, inductive loads like microwave ovens. Pure sine wave inverter keeps appliances safe and more durable. 

Modified sine wave inverter is inexpensive but has a serious disadvantage: it is not compatible with all appliances and may create excessive heat in appliances which will reduce their lifetime. Also, modified sine wave inverters create more noise and a high electrical surge can lead to malfunctioning of home appliances. Modified sine wave inverter is suitable for simple systems or a DIY emergency solar kit, or a cabin with modest electrical needs. They work best with older TVs, incandescent lights, motors with brushes. Generally, they are not good with modern electronics, audio, induction motors, rechargeable batteries, or digital clocks.

The square wave inverter has the output waveform of the voltage like a square wave. This type of inverter is least used among all other types of inverter because all appliances are designed for sine wave supply. If we supply square wave to sine wave-based appliance, it may get damaged or losses are very high. The cost of this inverter is very low but the application is very rare. It can be used in simple tools with a universal motor.

Off-grid inverters are not connected to the electrical utility grid and they are designed to be integrated with a battery bank. The off-grid inverter draws power from the battery and converts it from DC power from the solar panels into AC power. The off-grid battery inverter only discharges the battery (unlike an inverter/charger). When the batteries’ charge level gets below a threshold, the inverter will shut down to protect both home appliances and the batteries.

In an off-grid system, PV panels charge the batteries via a charge controller, and only the power demanded by the loads is inverted to AC. These systems do not have access to the electrical utility grid so it is important to properly size the inverter as well as the battery bank.

The battery inverter/charger combines the functionality of a DC/AC battery inverter and a battery charger. Like any inverter, an inverter/charger converts DC (battery) power into AC power but it will also charge (converting AC into DC energy) the attached batteries when an AC power source is present. Generally, they are designed for applications in which AC power will be available from an outside source, such as a generator or shore power. Besides, in an off-grid solar power system, they are also used in a boat or a RV. 

Some advanced models of inverter/chargers (multi-mode, bi-directional) can charge a battery, converting AC power from the utility grid to DC power, and also feed power back into the grid using net metering, similar to the grid-tie inverters. If there is a power outage, the inverter/charger will automatically switch to battery power to provide power to connected equipment. 

A hybrid solar system is connected to the electrical utility grid and also has a battery bank. Hybrid inverters combine a standard solar inverter and a battery inverter/charger in one simple unit. Hybrid inverters convert the DC power your solar system generates into AC power, which can be used to power your home appliances or fed directly into the grid. The hybrid inverter can also manage inputs simultaneously from the solar panels and a battery bank. The batteries are charged with either solar panels or the electricity grid, depending on which is more economical or preferred.

Not all hybrid inverters provide battery backup in the event of a blackout. A basic hybrid inverter cannot supply power when there is a blackout (commonly known as an uninterruptible power supply or UPS function). There is another type of hybrid inverters so-called multi-mode inverters with backup power capability during a blackout, which are more advanced hybrid inverters designed to work in on-grid mode and off-grid mode for a long time.

A grid-tied solar power system will not power your home during a blackout, so in areas where blackouts and weather-related outages are common, a hybrid solar power system with a multi-mode hybrid inverter may be a solution. You can also buy a hybrid inverter for your grid-tied solar system if you plan to add batteries soon and this is the most cost-effective option. 

The modern hybrid inverters are more versatile than grid-tie and off-grid inverters, and they are also more expensive. The advantage of hybrid solar inverters is that they allow the centralised monitoring of the solar array. Thus, the homeowners only have to check on one portal to understand how much energy their solar panels are producing and how the batteries are performing. 

You can always add storage to an existing grid-tied solar power system later and it is still the common practice as the homeowner already has a grid-tie inverter installed. However, a disadvantage of this method is the higher cost. 

Another option is by adding an AC coupled battery system such as the Tesla Powerwall 2 and Sonnen ECO (they have built-in inverter) to your grid-tied solar system. These battery systems can be retrofitted to a home with an existing solar power system and grid-tie solar inverter. They are expensive but they are also the best in the market.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

How to Choose the Right Solar Inverter for Your Solar Power System (Part 1)


solar power system
Photo by Alex Csiki from Pixabay

The solar inverter converts direct current (DC) electricity generated by your solar panels into usable alternating current (AC) electricity used by household appliances. If you have decided to go solar and install solar power system for your home, you have to do some research and have an initial knowledge about the solar inverter. 

The solar inverter consists of complex power electronics and software and it is crucial to the performance of your solar power system. When you choose your solar panels for your home it is important also to consider buying the right solar inverter for your solar power system. In this post, I’ll give you some basic information about solar inverters, their types, how they work, the best brands, and how to size an inverter to be right for your solar power system.

There are three groups of solar inverters: grid-tie, off-grid, and hybrid. There are three main types for grid-tied solar power systems: string inverter, microinverter, and string inverter + power optimizer. 

String inverters are central inverters and they are the most commonly used inverters for home solar power systems. When few solar panels of the same output voltage and power are wired together in series we have what is known as a "string”. All of the energy the panels produce is sent to a single inverter that is typically located on the side of your house, garage or utility room. String inverters are easy to install and maintain, and they also have the lowest price. 

This type of inverter is suitable when your panels are not facing multiple angles and have no shading issues. The disadvantage here is that if one panel is in shade and suffers reduced output, every panel in the string drops to that reduced output. 

Microinverters are small devices also known as module-level power electronics (MLPEs) that are attached directly to each solar panel, usually on the back. Thus they need to be designed to be resistant to humidity and heat. Microinverters convert DC power to AC right at the panel, providing a better performance of the solar array thus better performance of the whole solar power system. Just make sure the microinverter capacity matches that of the solar panel.

Microinverters allow you to monitor individual panel performance, giving you a more clear view of efficiency. Also, if something goes wrong with a particular solar panel, you can fix it easily. Because of all of this, and the need for multiple inverters, microinverters are the higher cost option. Besides that, another disadvantage is that they are located on the roof, so their maintenance is complicated. 

Power optimizers are small devices as well that is located on the roof alongside or integrated with each solar panel, allowing for more accurate performance monitoring. But unlike microinverters, they don’t convert power from DC to AC directly. Instead, they simply “optimize” the DC electricity before it is sent to a string inverter for conversion into AC. 

Power optimizers, similar to microinverters, make the solar energy system more efficient, but you can buy them at a more affordable price. And like microinverters, maintenance and repair cost power optimizers are high with power optimizers given their rooftop location. Microinverters and power optimizers typically come with a 20 to 25-year warranty while standard inverters typically have 12 to 15-year warranties.

Microinverters and power optimizers (together referred to as module-level power) are gaining popularity in residential solar markets. It’s always nice to have options, and string inverters and MLPEs each have pros and cons. 

The three best string solar inverters for 2020 are: Fronius (Primo and Galvo), SolarEdge (SE and HD wave), SMA (Sunny boy series). Enphase is a leading manufacturer of microinverters.

The inverter sizing refers to choosing the right size of solar inverter for your solar power system. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need an inverter that matches the watts of your solar panel installation, For example, if you have a 3kW solar panel system, then you would install a 3kW inverter. In the case of microinverters, the size of the inverters should correspond to the energy output of each solar panel they’re connected to versus the entire system. 

If you plan to go off-grid, to choose the right inverter for your solar power system you must calculate the load your inverter can handle. You should know that inverters are rated in continuous/running watts and surge/peak watts. It’s important to consider both the continuous load and surge load when it comes to inverters (inverters have two capacity values printed on the manufacturer’s label: continuous watts and surge watts).

Surge watts are the amount of power the inverter can support for a very short time, usually no longer than a second when the appliance starts up. Appliances with motors require about 1.5 to 2 times the running wattage before the motor will start. Appliances and tools with induction motors such as refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, microwave ovens, and pumps, need a much higher power level at startup. They may require a start up surge of 3 to 7 times the continuous rating.

Find out the appliance’s description and read the specific wattage requirements. If the wattage of the appliance is not listed on the specification, you may calculate the standard watts each of your appliances requires using the formula:

Amps x Volts = Required Watts

For example, if you have a microwave 7.5 amps x 120 (using a 120-volt ac) = 900 watts. It means that the inverter has to handle both the 900 running watts and the 2,700 watts surge requirements of your microwave. 

If the running wattage of your fridge is indicated as 600 watts, the surge wattage will be about 1,800 watts, but this surge is needed for only a fraction of a second. To run this refrigerator, you will need an inverter that can handle 600 running wattage and a surge of about 1,800 watts for a split second. At discount stores or home centers, you can find a typical inverter that provides 1,500 watts of continuous power and 3,000 watts of surge power.

For your inverter to be right for your system, its surge watts rating must be approximately equal to (or greater than) the potential surge watts of each appliance. You can find this out by looking at the label on the back of all of the appliances.

If you want to use multiple house appliances at the same time use the appliances running and surge wattage to determine which devices you can run simultaneously. Just add up all the continuous watt ratings of all the appliances that may be running simultaneously. The sum of continuous watts you get will determine if you're inverter can handle it. Always keep the running load under the maximum limit of your inverter.

With an inverter, with a continuous rating of approximately 1500 watts and with a surge rating of approximately 3000 watts, you can run a wide range of household appliances simultaneously by managing the running load. You can run LED lights, TV, stereo, laptop, fans, fridge, and a microwave (depending on the wattage) at the same time. Just put a current display meter to check the running load before you switch on a new appliance.

It is also recommended to provide a safety room of 10% - 20% watts (more than your largest load) when sizing up an inverter.

Remember: always seek professional help for the installation of your solar power system because of the specific power needs and circumstances of every home.