The State of the Residential Solar Industry 2023
Individuals use solar power in a variety of ways. In residential settings, solar panels are often installed on rooftops or in yards to generate electricity for the home. Small-scale solar systems can also be used to power devices such as smartphones and laptops, making them popular with outdoor enthusiasts and those living off-grid. Solar power is also used in small-scale commercial settings, such as in farms or workshops to power outbuildings and tools that consume a lot of power and make the high upfront cost of installing a solar power system economical in the long run.
The widespread use of solar power in residential settings has a relatively short history. It wasn’t until recently that solar technology has become inexpensive and effective enough to make it commercially viable. Yet, even though the cost of components has come down, residential solar power systems themselves have not become cheaper.
Most homeowners purchase solar power systems from local solar companies, who will develop the plan, provide the components, and set it all up. It seems like a good system on the surface, but homeowners are paying a premium for the convenience. The cost of the components is less than half the expense charged by these companies, the rest being the cost of labor, warehousing, administrative fees, and generous profits.
Without competition, there’s no reason for companies to lower the amount they charge even when their own costs go down. However, competition has arisen in the form of DIY approaches such as solar kits, which provide all the components and let homeowners either install the system themselves of hire an installer for much less than what the solar company would have charged – usually with a savings of around 50%.
Although solar technology is constantly improving, it's this change in the way people acquire the system that promises to bring the greatest advancement in the spread of residential solar power in 2023 and beyond.
A brief history of solar power
In the 19th century, efforts to turn sunlight into electricity led to the discovery of the photovoltaic effect, the foundation of solar power and the core of solar technology to this day. Early solar power was similar to other sources of electricity, such as burning coal, because it used heat to create the electric current.
Scientists and inventors continued to experiment and discovered that using selenium could create an electric current that wasn’t based on heat but light alone. It was Albert Einstein’s revolutionary idea that light contained something he called quanta (what we now call photons) that explained the phenomenon, alongside the discovery of electrons. This understanding propelled the technology forward into a place where sunlight could become a viable source of power on a large scale.
It was later found that silicon was even better than selenium and the first practical solar cell was created. The cost of producing solar cells was prohibitively expensive at the time so solar power was primarily used in niche applications such as powering remote communication systems.
Better solar cells, better solar power
In the early 20th century, scientists and inventors began experimenting with engines powered by solar cells. The first solar-powered vehicle was a small, self-powered car, and efforts like this helped propel the development of more efficient solar cells, a crucial element in the growth of solar technology as a viable energy source.
In 1954, researchers at Bell Laboratories developed the first practical silicon solar cell, which was used to power small electronic devices, but they still weren’t practical for almost all uses. People still dabbled in solar-powered vehicles, including a solar-powered car made by Ford in the 1960s, but these concept vehicles were slow and couldn’t go far so they weren’t practical.
The best use of solar technology during this time was space exploration, where despite its limitations solar power was the best and most efficient option for generating electricity to power satellites and other spacecraft.
Even still, they were one more step further along the journey toward seeing solar power used for everyday applications.
An energy crisis spurs innovation
Now we hit the 1970s, and an oil crisis that created real concerns over energy security. This made the idea of solar technology as an alternative energy source inviting enough to put some real effort into developing it. Government funding and incentives poured out alongside improvements to semiconductors that spurred the creation of the first practical solar panels for commercial use.
Finally, people were able to start using solar power to power homes and businesses, particularly in remote areas where grid electricity was not available. But it was only a start because the technology was still relatively expensive so it was mostly used by individuals who put environmental benefits above economic costs.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the efficiency and durability of solar panels improved considerably. Solar panels were cheaper to produce and governments around the world encouraged the adoption of solar power with financial incentives. The first thin-film solar cells were made, opening up new applications for solar panels because they were lighter and more flexible than the old silicon cells.
As solar power became used more people started thinking about ways to integrate it into the power grid to improve its stability so utilities and governments invested in smart grid technologies. Large-scale solar power plants appeared that could generate electricity on par with traditional power plants.
Energy storage: the final puzzle piece
The major drawback of solar power is that it only generates electricity when the sun is shining. The creation of vastly better batteries was a deal-breaker, making it possible to store solar energy produced by panels for use when there isn’t enough sunlight to produce more.
These better batteries have increased the reliability and flexibility of solar power and opened it up to being used by everyone, not only utilities charging up the grid but also individual people powering their own homes.
Residential solar power in the home
In the early 1980s, the first residential solar panels became available on the market. Since then, the personal use of solar power has grown for a variety of cultural, economic, and environmental factors.
At first, solar panels meant for residential use were still very expensive so you mostly only saw them used by environmentally conscious individuals. The technological advancements and government incentives that grew during the 1980s and 90s began to make solar power more accessible and affordable for individuals. More efficient and less expensive solar panels combined with net metering policies made it possible to sell excess energy back to the grid.
This made solar power a viable option for homeowners and small business owners looking to reduce their energy costs. Even still, solar power users still had to remain on the grid because when the sun disappeared over the horizon so did all your solar power.
These days, millions of households and businesses around the world use solar power to meet their energy needs. Falling costs, government incentives, and consumer demand for clean energy have driven the growth of the solar industry. New technology such as energy storage systems and smart grids have made solar power even more practical and reliable.
Batteries are the key
In particular, it’s the advancement of battery technology that has spurred such rapid growth in the use of solar power by individuals. The ability to store energy generated during the day for use when the sun isn’t shining, coupled with far more efficient and affordable solar panels capable of producing enough excess electricity through a small array, has made solar power a practical option for virtually everyone.
The availability of reliable battery storage has also opened up new applications for solar power, such as off-grid homes and remote installations. It is now possible for homeowners and small businesses to use solar power to reduce–or even eliminate–their reliance on the grid. Not only does this reduce energy costs but it also gives a secure source of energy in areas where the grid is too unreliable. Battery storage systems can provide backup power to make sure things keep working when the grid is down.
Thanks to better batteries, solar-powered vehicles have also begun to move beyond the realm of research and development and into commercial applications. We now see solar-powered cars and trucks, as well as solar-powered boats and planes. The dream of a reliable, affordable, self-sufficient electric car that can recharge its batteries all its own through solar panels isn’t that far from becoming a reality.
Solar power: an attractive choice
In many parts of the world with sufficient sunlight, solar power has been embraced as a way to lower energy costs. As the cost of solar panels and other components has fallen, the financial benefits of investing in solar power have become increasingly apparent. In some cases, government incentives and tax credits have also encouraged individuals to invest in solar power.
Climate change has spurred the desire to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, making a clean, renewable energy source like the sun a potential world-saver. Due to climate change, we’ve also experienced an increase in weather disasters across the board: they’re stronger, last longer, and occur in places where they never did before.
When these storms, floods, wildfires, and other emergencies happen, blackouts cut the power to potentially millions of people for extended periods of time. Portable solar systems with battery-powered generators and folding solar panels provide a viable backup source of electricity for people affected by these disasters.
As well, a rising cultural shift towards mistrusting authority, be it a government or a utility, has caused many to look for ways to be independent and rely less on others to provide essential needs.
Finally, the grid that people have trusted for over a hundred years is crumbling. Increased demand and aging equipment have strained it to the breaking point. Without the investment of billions, if not trillions of dollars to update the network of power creation and delivery, it’s only a matter of time before the grid collapses completely. Given all these other considerations, there is a rising chorus of voices calling for putting that investment into solar power instead, in particular creating incentives to both improve and adopt solar technology for individual residential use.
There’s no denying it’s an attractive choice.
Main uses of residential solar
Residential solar power systems come in a variety of shapes and sizes because there are a variety of ways solar power can be used. The applications of home solar power include everything from having backup power during a blackout to keeping you going while roaming the roads in an RV to cutting electricity costs to eliminating dependence on the grid entirely to keeping a bomb shelter powered up if the stuff hits the fan and there isn’t a grid anymore.
In the end, the various uses of residential solar power can be divided into four groups:
- Off grid - complete reliance on solar power cut off from the grid
- Hybrid - partial reliance on solar power still connected to the grid
- Backup - stored power for the event of an emergency
- Portable - versatile systems easily transported for recreational and other purposes
Relying on a large array of solar panels and a significant amount of battery storage, an off grid system is completely self-sufficient. More expensive to create but eliminating ongoing costs forever (bye bye monthly utility bills), off grid systems can be used anywhere, whether or not the grid is an option, as long as there’s enough sunlight to meet your energy needs.
Motivations for off grid users:
- Energy independence: for many people, there’s a lot of appeal in not having to rely on the grid for power. For some it’s a choice, for others who live in a remote area where grid power is not available or unreliable it’s the only option.
- Cost savings: the initial price tag may be significant, but off grid systems inevitable pay themselves off over time and continue to offer savings by not having to pay for a single watt of power again.
- Environmental benefits: who can say no to a clean, renewable source of energy that produces no emissions or pollution?
- Backup power: technically it’s not really backup power if it’s there all the time, but an off grid user never needs to worry about another blackout ever again because they always have power stored in their battery bank.
Offering the best of both worlds, a hybrid or grid-tied system combines solar power with electricity drawn from the grid.
A battery bank isn’t necessary for a hybrid system because the grid can provide power when the panels are not generating enough, such as during the night. While the panels are producing electricity it’s used to power the home’s energy needs; any excess flows back into the grid for credit against power drawn from the grid.
If there is a battery bank, power flows there first and once the batteries are fully charged then the grid slurps up the excess. In the event of a blackout, the batteries kick in to keep the lights on and the food cold.
Motivations for hybrid users:
- Energy independence: like off grid solar power systems, hybrid systems give independence from the grid, although not completely.
- Cost savings: the most common reason for setting up a hybrid system is to reduce electricity bills, and it may even be possible to eliminate them completely if your array can produce enough excess to offset your electricity consumption when the sun isn’t shining. If your utility offers time-of-day savings, having a battery you can draw power from when electricity costs are cheaper is another way to cut costs.
- Backup power: if your hybrid solar power system includes battery storage, you’ve got backup power during a blackout or other emergency.
- Environmental benefits: you’re going to get sick of hearing this, but hybrid solar power systems are a clean, renewable source of energy: no emissions, no pollution.
- Grid stability: although it may not occur to most people as a driving motivation, helping stabilize the grid is a benefit of hybrid systems. All that excess solar power you feed back into the grid helps ease the strain of peak demand.
- Flexibility: hybrid solar power systems let you choose depending on desire or budget how much or how little power you produce by the size of your array, whether or not you have battery storage and how much, and when you draw power from the solar system.
We are all familiar with occasional blackouts, but if recent history is any indication we need to prepare for more frequent and more serious blackouts. A variety of factors play into this, including increasing demand upon an aging system as well as climate change.
A solar power backup system has many advantages over traditional ways of coping with blackouts, which are to use a gasoline-fueled generator or wait it out with candles and flashlights. Gas generators are dirty, smelly, loud, unreliable, and require constant refilling with more expensive fuel. A solar generator is none of these things, plus you can use it inside the home without fear of death by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Motivations for backup users:
- Security: backup solar power can keep your essential devices and appliances running indefinitely, needing only a few hours of sunlight to recharge the batteries of the solar generator.
- Peace of mind: you never need to worry about a blackout when protected by a reliable, easy-to-use solar system.
- Flexibility: the solar generator at the heart of a backup solar power system is portable, so you can easily move it to wherever you need electricity: plug in electric tools like lawnmowers, leaf blowers, or chainsaws, take it camping, use it at the cottage, or bring it along on a long road trip, just in case.
The portability of a solar generator combined with easily transportable folding solar panels creates great deal of flexibility in the ways it can be used. Many people get a portable solar power system specifically to use in their RV, or to take camping, or one of a large assortment of ingenious uses.
Motivations for portable users:
- Independence: having a reliable source of electricity you can take with you anywhere opens up a host of possibilities. Many use it in their RV allowing them to stop and set up basecamp almost anywhere.
- Comfort: you can convince even the most die-hard city-dweller to spend a night or two camping in the great outdoors if you can also promise them a few of the conveniences made possible by a source of electricity.
- Flexibility: you don’t need to pick just one reason to have a portable solar power system, its flexibility means you can use it any time and anywhere you need electricity outside the home. You can even keep it handy at all times inside the home as a backup during blackouts.
Solar technology today
Alongside the desire to switch to cleaner power sources, improvements to solar technology are fuelling a massive surge in residential solar power systems. The three most important parts of these systems–solar panels, batteries, and inverters–are all experiencing developments that make powering one’s home with solar more appealing than ever.
Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see the correlation between the decreasing cost of solar panels and their increasing use. Other factors contributed to the rise in solar use including government subsidies, especially the 30% tax credit on US Federal taxes, increased competition, economies of scale, and better financing options, but without the improvement in the technology, fewer homeowners would see the long-term environmental and economic benefits of a residential solar system worth the initial expense.
Today’s solar panels have a lot going for them:
- Greater efficiency increases the production of individual panels
- Greater durability reduces problems and allows panels to be used in more places
- Better production in individual panels packs more energy production in smaller arrays
- Better design enables panels to produce more power in all kinds of weather
- Improved manufacturing methods increase availability and lower costs through economy of scale
- Improved aesthetics enhance desirability
- Integration into smart home technology allows for optimization of power production and usage
CALLOUT: The output of a solar panel is measured in the number of watts it can produce in 1 hour of peak sunlight. This output is affected mostly by the physical size of a panel (number of photovoltaic cells it has) and the efficiency of the cells. Most panels used in residential solar arrays range between 200 and 400 watts.
Even more than enhancements to solar panels, the improvements made to solar battery technology over the past few years have contributed to the growth in residential solar power. The ability to store the power that the panels produce greatly increases the utility of a residential solar system. Better batteries also make solar generators feasible, which expands the ways that residential solar can be used as well.
Solar batteries have improved in a number of ways:
- Bigger storage capacity
- Improved battery chemistry
- Better cell design
- Less energy loss
- Longer lifespan
- Greater safety
The function of an inverter is to transform the DC energy created by solar panels into the AC power used by most appliances and devices. This conversion can happen at the source with microinverters attached to each panel, or with a single string inverter converting the power as it enters the home electrical system. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but improvements in technology have made all inverters better across the board.
- Higher efficiency
- Greater reliability
- Higher switching frequencies
- Enhanced thermal management
- Better performance
- Longer lifespan
- Smaller size and weight
- Better integration with the grid
- Better integration with batteries
- Increased monitoring capabilities
The key players
EcoFlow is a highly reliable solar brand that offers a range of products, including portable power stations and appliances. Their Delta series, although not recently updated, remains a top choice for home and backup power needs.
The company was founded in 2017 by a group of battery engineers in San Jose, with Eli Harris as CEO and Hannah Sieber as COO. EcoFlow's vision is to power a new world and help homeowners transition to sustainable energy sources. Their products are available in over 100 countries, and the company is valued at over $1 billion.
EcoFlow gained recognition for their Delta series, which was the first portable home battery designed for backup power and compatible with EV charging stations worldwide. Their key products include the Delta 2, which offers a lithium iron phosphate battery with an impressive 3,000 charge cycles and the Delta Pro, a powerful emergency power solution with 3600W output and 3500 charge cycles.
Compared to competitors, EcoFlow's products excel in quality and performance. However, they come at a slightly higher price point. Alternatives like the Bluetti EP500 offer similar features but have limitations in terms of working output or AC outlets.
EcoFlow generators are ideal for outdoor activities such as camping and RVing. They provide fast charging, long battery life, and the ability to power lights, appliances, and even small refrigerators. Moreover, they serve as reliable backup power sources during outages or for powering tools and equipment during outdoor projects.
Bluetti, a relatively new player in the solar energy industry, has gained popularity for its high-quality portable solar products. Founded in 2019 by James Ray and Wonder Law, Bluetti has quickly become synonymous with portable solar energy and is favored by van life communities and DIYers. Their EB150 and EB240 solar generators became best-sellers shortly after their launch and continue to perform well.
Bluetti stands out for its emphasis on innovation and uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, known for their longer lifespan and lower risk of overheating. Their batteries can undergo 2,500 to 3,500 discharge cycles, outperforming competitors.
Bluetti's products include portable power generators, backup batteries, solar panels, and solar kits. They also prioritize corporate social initiatives and have donated solar panels to thousands of households in Kenya.
Notable products from Bluetti include the AC200MAX, a versatile portable power station with a large capacity of 2048Wh, suitable for camping and emergencies. The Bluetti EB3A is a compact power station for smaller devices, while the Bluetti AC500 and B300S are powerful solar generators for backup power.
Bluetti's main competitor is EcoFlow, and while both offer excellent products, Bluetti's consistent use of LFP batteries gives them an advantage. However, Bluetti's frequent release of new models with minor differences can cause confusion for customers.
Looking ahead, Bluetti has two exciting upcoming products: the AC60, a small and powerful portable power station, and the EP900, a home backup solution with an impressive 9kW output and a 10-year warranty. Bluetti caters to those seeking portable energy solutions and is expanding into the Energy Storage System market, positioning themselves for further success.
If there is one brand that could be a one-stop shop for all solar needs it would be Rich Solar, the Wal-Mart of the solar industry. They offer a wide range of products, from solar panels and controllers to generators and energy storage systems. While they may not be as well-known as some competitors, their products are top-notch and offer great value for money.
Rich Solar has been in the business since 2005 and has grown exponentially. They cater to commercial, agricultural, and residential users, providing high-quality solar panels, deep cycle solar batteries, inverters, and charge controllers at affordable prices. Their mission is to make renewable energy easy by using the latest technology and durable materials.
Their solar panels, especially the flexible and portable options, are highly popular among van-lifers. Rich Solar also offers a complete energy storage system that includes a 3,000W all-in-one power inverter with an integrated MPPT charge controller. This system comes with a high-capacity battery bank to ensure that power keeps flowing even when the sun isn't shining.
When comparing Rich Solar to its competitors, they have successfully cornered the RV and marine equipment market, although Renogy gives them tough competition. Renogy excels in panel size and power, but Rich Solar wins in terms of affordability, usually being 10% to 15% cheaper.
With high-quality products at low prices, and lightweight and easy-to-install options, Rich Solar is a practical choice for those on a budget looking for reliable solar solutions for their boat, camping trip, RV, or emergency backup.
Jackery is a California-based company known for designing, developing, and manufacturing portable power solutions. They gained popularity with their portable power stations and are recognized for their high-quality products in the field of portable solar power.
The company was established in 2012 by a former Apple senior engineer and a CEO with expertise in Li-battery technology. Their flagship product, the Explorer 1000 portable power station, has received acclaim from The New York Times for its high battery capacity and multiple output ports. Jackery also offers flexible and lightweight solar panels, known as SolarSaga, which can be directly connected to their power stations for efficient solar energy conversion.
Recently, Jackery introduced new products, including the Jackery Solar Generator 2000 Plus and the Explorer 2000 Plus Portable Power Station. These models offer expandable capacity, fast charging, and reliable battery life. When compared to their competitor, EcoFlow, Jackery stands out for its ability to accept multiple solar panels simultaneously, although EcoFlow offers features like an app and remote control.
Jackery products are suitable for outdoor enthusiasts, van lifers, and remote workers who require a portable and reliable source of clean power while on the move. Whether for camping, emergencies, or travel, Jackery's lightweight and durable designs provide a convenient solution for power needs.
EG4 is a solar brand focused on providing affordable battery backup solutions and is expanding into the microinverter market. They aim to make the solar market accessible to DIYers, electricians, and consumers of all sizes. The company is headquartered in Texas and manufactures its products in China.
EG4's signature product is their EG4-LifePower4 Lithium Battery. This residential battery has a usable capacity of 5.12kWh, a roundtrip efficiency of 99.0%, and offers peak and continuous power output of 5.12kW. It has a long lifespan of 10 to 20 years, with a warranty of 5 years, and features a rack-mountable design for easy scalability. EG4 also offers the EG4-LL Lithium Battery, a high-performance server rack battery with a capacity of 5.12kWh and a 10-year warranty.
EG4 has recently upped the stakes in the inverter market with their EG4 Solar 18k inverter, which has a maximum output of 18,000 watts and can be used for grid-tied and off-grid systems. While the brand is not considered premium, the inverter provides a cost-effective option for those on a budget.
EG4 faces competition from brands like Aolithium, which offers similar server rack batteries with additional features such as LCD displays, wider temperature ranges, and longer warranties.
EG4's batteries are suitable for residential backup power during outages and off-grid applications.
Mammoth is a new player in the solar battery industry that offers reliable, powerful, and well-priced batteries. Their secret lies in their lithium iron phosphate (LFP/LiFePO4) battery cells, which are not only affordable but also provide numerous advantages over lithium-ion batteries.
These batteries are known for their safety, with excellent thermal stability and resistance to thermal runaway. They also boast an extended cycle life, high power density, good temperature tolerance, and environmental friendliness.
Mammoth's batteries offer great value for money compared to competitors. While they may not be the cheapest option, their pricing is competitive. The Mammoth Pro is the largest single battery available, offering maximum energy storage without the need for stacking multiple units. Mammoth also sets itself apart by providing local US-based support, ensuring prompt assistance in case of any issues.
Mammoth offers two key products: the RE Plus, with a 9.6 kWh capacity suitable for overflow or emergency power, and the RE Pro, with an impressive 23.5 kWh capacity capable of powering entire houses. Mammoth outperforms its closest competitor, HomeGrid Stack'd, in terms of capacity and watt-hours, while also being lighter and more affordable.
Mammoth is an ideal choice for those seeking affordable, reliable, and powerful batteries. Whether for off-grid living or backup power, Mammoth stands out as a reputable brand in the industry.
Sol-Ark is a leading brand in the solar industry, specializing in hybrid inverters that work seamlessly with solar panels and energy storage systems. Founded in 2013 by Tom Brennan and Bhawna Oberi, both veterans, Sol-Ark aims to provide reliable and efficient power solutions for homes and businesses. Their slogan, "power families through life," reflects their commitment to empowering customers with innovative products.
Sol-Ark's inverters stand out for their transformerless design, making them lighter, more compact, and highly efficient compared to traditional inverters. These all-in-one hybrid inverters accept AC or DC input power from the grid, solar panels, or generators and efficiently distribute that power to batteries or appliances. The ability to interface with various battery types, such as lithium, lead acid, or AGM deep-cycle, offers flexibility to expand the system over time.
One notable feature of Sol-Ark inverters is their quick transfer capability from grid power to backup power in just four milliseconds, ensuring uninterrupted electricity supply. The company also prides itself on providing exceptional customer support through their on-shore call center available seven days a week.
Sol-Ark offers several inverter models, including the 5K, 8K, 12K, and 15K lines. While the 5K and 8K models are suitable for smaller applications, the 12K and 15K models are ideal for off-grid homes or those requiring backup power. The 15K model, in particular, offers advanced features like parallel stacking, smart load management, and peak shaving, making it a comprehensive solution for whole-home setups.
In comparison to its competitor, EnPhase, Sol-Ark provides a more versatile system that works well in both grid-tied and off-grid applications. EnPhase, on the other hand, specializes in microinverters installed on individual solar panels, offering greater flexibility and real-time monitoring capabilities for maximum energy production.
While Sol-Ark products may not be the most affordable option, their durability, reliability, and ease of installation make them a worthwhile investment, especially for those seeking off-grid or reliable backup power solutions. Sol-Ark's products can be purchased from shopsolar.com, where customers can also find helpful advice and guidance throughout their solar journey.
The Tesla Powerwall, much like Apple products, is often associated with a hefty price tag that seems to prioritize brand recognition and sleek design over practicality and value for money. While Tesla has garnered a reputation for cutting-edge technology and sustainability, some argue that the Powerwall falls short when compared to lesser-known competitors who offer superior products at a lower cost
Despite its sleek design, the Powerwall's premium price doesn't always translate into better performance or features. Competitors often provide higher energy storage capacities, more advanced functionality, or better compatibility with a range of components, all at a more affordable price point.
Similar to Apple's closed-garden approach, Tesla adopts a similar strategy by limiting compatibility with third-party products. This "closed-garden" approach restricts consumer choices and can lead to vendor lock-in, preventing users from integrating the Powerwall with components from other brands seamlessly.
While Tesla enjoys a devoted fan base, it's important to critically assess whether the premium price for the Powerwall is truly justified. With a plethora of alternative options on the market, consumers may find more cost-effective solutions that offer better performance, features, and flexibility without sacrificing their hard-earned money for the Tesla brand name and aesthetic appeal.
Founded in 2006, Enphase is a leading manufacturer of micro-inverters, which are small inverters attached to individual solar panels. Their products are known for their high quality and reliability, with the IQ7 and IQ8 ranges being top sellers. Enphase has a global presence, with employees worldwide and a network of approved installers. They have shipped millions of micro-inverters annually.
It was the first company to successfully commercialize solar micro-inverters, and its co-founders have extensive experience in the clean energy sector. The company's micro-inverters offer advantages such as increased efficiency, reliability, flexibility, and better performance compared to traditional string inverters.
Enphase offers two main families of micro-inverters: the IQ7 series and the newer IQ8 series. The IQ8 series is particularly noteworthy as it is grid-forming, suitable for off-grid applications, and compatible with a wide range of panel types.
Enphase recently introduced its own energy storage system called Enphase Ensemble, featuring AC-coupled batteries and backup capabilities. They have also launched a bidirectional EV charger that enables vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-home functionality.
Enphase is recommended for those seeking sophisticated, reliable, and warranty-backed micro-inverters. They are especially suitable for DIY installations and environments with shading issues.
AP Systems is a leading brand offering advanced solar microinverter technology for homes and businesses. Founded in Silicon Valley in 2010, AP Systems manufactures and markets its own proprietary microinverters globally, with headquarters in Austin, Texas. Their microinverters convert the direct current (DC) electricity generated by a single solar panel into alternating current (AC) electricity, eliminating the need for a central inverter and enabling efficient energy conversion at the point of generation.
With a user-friendly monitoring interface, AP Systems allows users to easily track the performance of each panel and optimize their solar power system. The brand's flagship product, the YC600 microinverter, is designed for residential and commercial use, powering two solar panels with one inverter and saving installation time and space on the roof. The DS3 microinverter is another notable product, providing higher AC output power and reducing the required number of components.
In comparison to its competitor Enphase, AP Systems offers cost savings by requiring fewer inverters and components. Although Enphase is known for its quality and reliability, AP Systems' dual-module microinverter system proves advantageous by utilizing higher-wattage solar panels and delivering better output at a lower cost.
AP Systems caters to customers who prefer microinverters over string inverters and value cost and space savings without compromising on quality. While there may be cheaper options available, AP Systems stands out for its exceptional quality and reliable microinverter solutions.
Residential solar technology tomorrow
According to the International Energy Agency, the use of solar technology climbed by more than 30% in 2020, even though most of the world was locked down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many governments forcing the adoption of electric vehicles over the next decade, the demand for electricity will skyrocket, placing crippling demands on an already overloaded grid system. At the same time, the threat of climate change is forcing out the use of fossil fuels, so many more people will continue looking at solar power as the solution. This will undoubtedly lead to even more improvements in solar technology that increase availability and lower costs, making it even more ubiquitous in small-scale applications.
The future of solar panels
Much of the research and innovation into solar technology is devoted to improving solar panels. Great strides forward have been made in recent years. Size output of individual solar panels has increased, with panels over 600 watts being used in industrial settings, and 400 watts or more common in residential projects. The average size for home solar system panels is 385 watts, up from 250 watts just a few years ago.
Of greater significance are the improvements to efficiency. In just a few years the best panels maxed out at somewhere between 16% and 19% efficiency, whereas now they can reach up to 23%. These high efficiency ratings are found in monocrystalline solar panels. There are trade-offs for this efficiency, however: monocrystalline panels cost more and run the risk of damage in cold climates.
Polycrystalline solar panels have reduced efficiency percentage of somewhere in the mid-teens and take up more space compared to monocrystalline panels with the same output, but they are more durable and cost less.
The other type of solar panel is thin-film. These are the least efficient and least durable, but are extremely flexible and work well in applications like putting them on vehicles. In the coming years, look for improvements in thin-film solar panels in particular. Because they can be made using different materials than the silicon used in other panels, as well as being easier and cheaper to produce, they are very attractive to manufacturers. If the efficiency and durability can be raised, expect thin-film solar panels to eat up much of the future solar market.
Research into other advancements in solar module technology such as multi-junction, tandem, interdigitated black content cells may also bear fruit in increasing efficiency and lowering costs.
Other improvements we will see more of in the next few years is with flexible orientation of solar panels. The technology exists now to automatically adjust the orientation of solar panels with the movement of the sun to maximize the amount of sunlight that reaches the panels throughout the day. As people seek to optimize their energy production, these kinds of self-orienting mounting options will become more and more common.
Future innovations in solar technology may come in the form of solar cells being built into building materials such as windows, walls, and roofs, turning your house into one big solar array harvesting energy from sunlight to power itself.
The future of solar batteries
Solar batteries have been a vital component in making residential solar power viable, and we can expect that technology to improve exponentially in the coming years. Huge investments are being made in battery innovation, largely driven by the electric car revolution.
There are several ways manufacturers can improve upon battery technology:
- Make them safer: current lithium-ion batteries can overheat and combust, so research is looking for ways to reduce or eliminate this risk
- Make them cheaper: many of the materials currently used in batteries are rare and expensive—some can only be found in regions in political unrest—so many other elements are being experimented with to cut dependence upon these “conflict minerals”
- Make them last longer: today’s batteries last around 5,000 cycles (the number of times the battery can be depleted and recharged again), so longer-lasting batteries are a definite holy grail for the industry
- Make them hold more power: in the case of battery storage, more is always better
- Make them smaller: this goes hand-in-hand with efficiency; packing more power into a smaller space is crucial for the future of all battery-powered technology
- Make them charge faster: the quicker you can get the energy into the battery the better, this is especially important for electric vehicles, but will also make solar batteries much better given the limited amount of time in a day when the sun is shining bright enough for solar panels to work their magic
Solid-state battery technology is something to keep an eye on as a potential game-changer, but the capacity, lifespan, and efficiency of current state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries will increase while the cost will come down dramatically.
Other battery chemistries that are currently in the development stage will make it into the market, such as lithium-tungsten, lithium-sulfur, and zinc-manganese oxide, as well as the introduction of nanotubes in the design that allow batteries to recharge faster and hold more power.
Other innovations that could make their way into improving residential battery storage for solar-generated power are new solvents and electrolytes, adding silicon anodes, and replacing cobalt with more effective and less expensive cathode materials.
While it is unclear which innovations will lead the charge in the future of batteries, it is inevitable that there will be great improvements made over today’s battery technology.
Solar kits are the way of the future
If things continue as they are now, there is a major issue in store for the residential solar industry: accessibility.
Currently, the de facto way for a homeowner to get a solar power system is to find a local solar company and hire them to do the whole job. This is the main reason why, even though the cost of hardware has dropped dramatically, the cost of installing a residential solar power system has only gone up.
It is widely estimated that 50% or more of the expense goes into soft costs such as labor and the overhead of solar installation companies. The cost of the components has come down, but the soft costs have not, so as the technology improves more of the cost will go towards the installation company and less towards the hardware.
In the coming years, there will be a sharp rise in the number of homeowners who will opt for a more DIY approach using solar kits. These kits provide all the equipment necessary to set up a solar system for half the price of traditional solar companies. They can then either do the installation themselves, or hire someone to do only the installation, saving them many thousands of dollars in upfront costs.
In 2023 the residential solar industry is looking rosy. Even with inflation hitting homeowners hard, the economic benefits of going solar are significant enough to make it well worth it. The key is to reduce the high upfront costs by cutting out the middle man and taking a more DIY approach, and taking advantage of government incentives.
The cost of solar panels and the components needed to get a solar system up and running are going down. The price of solar energy has come down by 90% since 2009. At the same time, power bills are going up at a rate of 2% per year or more as the global energy crisis continues. Factor in government incentives like the 30% Federal Income Tax Credit, and it has never made more sense to go solar than it does now.
It has also never been easier or more affordable to go solar, thanks to solar kits. These kits are designed for DIYers and contain everything you need to get started with solar energy generation, from solar panels to cables to mounting gear to optional extras you'd like. Each solar kit comes with an easy-to-follow installation guide that talks you through the installation process, and even if you hire a handyman to do the job, it's still about half the cost of going through a solar company.
For the smart homeowner, solar power is a buyer’s market. The sooner a solar power system is installed, the faster the long-term benefits can start to be reaped: energy independence, security, reducing environmental impact, and saving money.
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