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7/21/2010

New Chip Promises More Efficiency in Solar Arrays

By Andy Torrez | Staff Writer | GreenTech TV

Solar panels covered partially by shadows may no longer be a problem.  STMicroelectronics claims its SPV1020 chip offers power-optimization and power-conversion functions for solar panels at a lower cost.

According to STMicroelectronics, the SPV1020 improves the Maximum Power-Point Tracking (MPPT), so that even if one of the panels in an array is in a shadow, the rest of the panels will still be at full power. 

Placement of solar panels has been tricky because of issues with shadowing and loss of power.  According to ST, power can drop 10-to-20 percent if small portions of solar panels are covered by shadows.
 
The company says its chip can automatically change a solar panel’s “output circuitry to compensate for power fluctuations resulting from varying solar intensity, shadowing, temperature change, panel mismatch, or aging.” 
 
“Depending on the time of day, you will never be able to get maximum power from any solar system,” said Francesco Doddo, Market Development Engineer at ST, in an interview with GreenTech TV.  “In today’s current solar arrays, when there is shading, the inverter will try to optimize the Maximum Power Point for the entire solar array.  But it’ll never optimize each solar panel.  This means you will lose a lot of power that the system can potentially give to you.”
 
Instead of relying on one inverter to connect to each panel, the SPV1020, which Doddo describes as a small processor that tries to optimize the voltage and current to give the array ultimate power, can be applied individually to each solar panel.  
 
“Now you have a smart solar panel because you have some intelligence inside,” Doddo said.  “We move from a centralized inverter where all the intelligence is located in the inverter, to a distributed approach where the intelligence is still in the inverter, but a big part is in the solar panel.”
 
According to Doddo, with the SPV1020, owners get maximum power from each panel which allows solar systems to deliver more energy at a lower cost. 
 
“Maximizing efficiency and reliability are key elements to deliver cost-competitive power from renewable sources,” said Pietro Menniti, general manager of ST’s Industrial and Power Conversion Division.  
 
Doddo said that the idea for the SPV1020 started last year and the chip should become commercial within the year. 
 
“The development of innovative products such as the SPV1020, which implements MPPT and power conversion circuitry in a single chip, will maintain ST’s position at the forefront of the industrialization of renewable-energy technologies,” said Menniti.

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