Powering up for solar

July 7, 2010   by Joe Terrett, Editor

Sustainable Energy’s solar panel installation in San Lorenzo de Morunys, in Catalina.

Photo: Sustainable Energy

Climate change is hot right now—pardon the word play—creating opportunities for innovative companies ready to tackle a growing global market for cleaner energy technologies.

Solar power is looking particularly promising, specifically photo voltaic (PV) technology—an area that Sustainable Energy Technologies Ltd. is, ahem…shining.

The Calgary-based developer and manufacturer of power inverters for grid-connected solar PV systems is making global deals and expanding operations to Ontario where it expects to do some significant business under the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed In Program.

The company, formed about 12 years ago, has developed innovative and unique power inverters commercialized under its SUNERGY trademark (and part of the PARALEX line of solar generator products and systems) that increase the energy yield of individual solar modules.

The technology is based on nine US and Canadian patents (additional patents pending) and was originally applied to inverters for attaching fuel cells to the power grid, said former president and CEO Ron Bucher (who resigned and left in May after assisting with Sanjay Razdan’s transition to the executive position).

“Basically we’ve changed solar cells so they can operate at a lower voltage, which is a unique technology in terms of efficiency because it has solved a lot of problems acquiring and harvesting solar energy,” says Bucher.

The inverters used with solar cell arrays on institutional and commercial rooftops or on the ground, handle rapid power fluctuations to maintain a continuous connection to the grid.

Sustainable Energy’s technology is based on parallel wiring rather than the more conventional serial wiring commonly used in the industry. Serial operates like a line of old Christmas tree lights. One light goes out, the whole line is down. In a parallel series of solar cells, if one malfunctions the rest continue to operate. Bucher says a parallel system increases efficiency by 5% to 15 per cent.

The system also addresses a safety issue. Most rooftop installations are high voltage (600 to 1,000 volts), which makes installation and access a more highly charged affair. Sustainable Energy’s system is 100 volts or less, and below the 120-volt extra low voltage threshold of the International Electro-Technical Commission.

Right place, right time
The company appears to be in the right place at the right time. The PV industry is the fastest growing segment in the world, says an ARC Advisory Group study. The Boston firm says the solar inverter market was $3.1 billion in 2008 and it’s forecasting more than $12 billion by 2014.

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