When people decide to go solar, they often have to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of various technology options: if you prioritize a photovoltaic system that’s aesthetically pleasing, you might have to sacrifice efficiency, for example. Every house is different and every system needs to balance what’s most important to you. Now, though, there’s a new option that gives you the best of all worlds. SunPower, the most efficient panel and inverter manufacturer on the market, has a new AC module that looks good, fits just about any home and combines the flexibility of microinverters with an all-in-one unit that includes monitoring. Simply put, at 20% efficiency these are the best sole-source AC modules in the world.
Before I continue, let me get some of the solar jargon out of the way — specifically about microinverters. Essentially, a normal set of solar panels (aka a “string”) works together to feed DC power to one inverter which changes it to AC and connects to the house and/or grid; if the efficiency of one panel drops, it impacts all of them. So if a tree is shading just one panel in a string, they will all see a dip in efficiency. Microinverters, however, are attached to individual panels, so the AC output of any given panel is independent of the rest of the string. That means you can have shading issues and panels on different roof surfaces and still potentially be in the market for a solar project with a great return on investment in a reasonable amount of time. It makes solar feasible for homes that previously couldn’t even consider it because of HOA regulations, roof space restrictions, shading or other factors..
Which brings us back to these new panels. When I say they’re new, I mean it. We just installed the first system using these in North Carolina a few weeks ago. Previously, the only way to put in a system with microinverters was to install both the panels and the microinverter for each one (almost always from two different manufacturers). The SunPower AC modules come with everything already put together. This means you’re investing a higher percentage of the installation cost in a higher end product instead of labor to assemble products from different manufacturers on site . It also simplifies things by having one manufacturer cover the entire unit under the same warranty. As a result, you have confidence in knowing that there will never be any question over a faulty part and who has responsibility.
These modules have the advantage of being flexible. You can install as many or as few as you want, put them where you want, and not have to worry about “balancing strings” (with normal inverters, you have to make sure there aren’t too many or too few modules per inverter). If you want to add more later, that’s a simple process, too. At the same time, they come with panel-level monitoring, too, so you can keep an eye on each one and see how the entire system is performing at any given time.
Bottom line is that the SunPower AC modules are not the cheapest module out there, but they’re not supposed to be. These all black panels will stand up to scrutiny from most HOAs and give people an opportunity to install solar who never had it before. Right now there are two different versions of the SunPower AC modules (225 and 240-watt options) — if they’ve caught your eye, click here to contact us or leave a comment, and we’ll be happy to discuss what could work best for you.
Graham Alexander is with Residential Solar Services at Southern Energy Management. Read more about him here.