What does the future hold for Commercial Solar Panels?

Future of Commercial Solar Panels
David Lewis

Commercial solar PV systems are becoming more and more efficient year by year, more than quadrupling in uptake since the 1970s. In typical UK conditions, which some may consider not to be ideal for solar technology, solar modules are actually able to produce significant levels of energy as it is not only the temperature that matters, but also the levels of light that play a part in production.

In fact, Germany, that experiences similar weather conditions to the UK, is a world leader in solar electricity production. Advances in technology, manufacturing processes and installation practices are expected to further reduce costs, driving the commercial solar panels industry into a cost-competitive future against other major low-carbon players. Amongst the drivers in this area are improved efficiencies in storage, the use of power optimisers to increase panel yield, and drones to aid site assessment.

Solar Battery Storage for commercial solar panels

Solar battery storage allows you to store surplus solar energy for future use rather than exporting it, thereby reducing your commercial electricity bill. Increased uptake and a significant drop in battery prices have meant that both domestic and commercial users are now looking for storage options, so they can access solar energy at all times of the day. Battery storage systems are now becoming a viable option for commercial installations, as battery storage for PV (Photovoltaic) systems will help businesses reduce their daily electricity draw from the grid.

UK supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, maintains that commercial rooftop solar is a crucial element in their sustainability plans and are currently looking into battery storage technologies by trialling systems to further reduce their carbon footprint, as well as continuing to make further savings in utilities. The supermarket chain currently has rooftop PV systems installed in over 200 of their sites and wishes to remain an industry leader in sustainability. One of the critical success factors for Sainsbury’s is that it tends to apply blended programmes, with solar panels installed alongside other renewable sources which complement each other.

Power Optimisers for commercial solar panels

Module Level Power Electronics (MLPE) increases the yield of a solar module through power optimisers. While they are not strictly a new technology, they are currently taking off due to improved reliability and lower prices and are set to drive commercial solar in 2017.

A power optimiser is fitted to an individual solar panel (rather than a string) and can help overcome a number of complexities that a series string system can cause, especially relevant for larger commercial projects.

First, a series string system can cause high temperature arcing from the high voltage direct current. The potential for this is greatly minimised with the use of low-voltage power optimisers, as well as the fact that any of their low-voltage lines are located beneath the solar modules ensuring enhanced safety during any rooftop activity.

A distributed harvest from power optimisers also means that there is no single point of failure within the array. Typical problems such as shading or debris on one commercial solar panel will therefore not affect the output of the entire string. If there are any problems within the string then power optimisers can also monitor and fault find down to the individual panel, unlike alternative methods.

Drone assisted 3D mapping for on-site assessments

Another development that is leading the uptake of commercial solar panels is drone assisted 3D mapping. This development is leading the commercial solar panel industry into a faster and more accurate way to perform on-site assessments. The current on-site process for assessing a commercial site can take several days and literally involves someone climbing on the roof, measuring obstructions with tape measures and analysing shading by use of outdated tools. Information would then also need to be plotted to make project maps which can be a lengthy process.

The use of drones and 3D mapping however can significantly reduce this time by use of thermal sensors, lasers and high-res cameras to model and export precise measurements and modelling directly to AutoCAD for a more efficient site assessment.

Many people believe that solar will eventually be one of the cheapest forms of energy. Although just how cheap depends partly on government policies and carbon pricing – which will deflate the competition from fossil fuels. One thing is for sure, commercial solar power will continue to prove more and more popular as technological solutions are developed to cope with some of the initial shortcomings that were previously contemplated.