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APsystems announces major sponsorship of Extend The Day

APsystems, the global leader in advanced microinverter technology for the solar PV industry, today announced its commitment to Extend the Day, a charity organization which gives solar reading lights to school children in disadvantaged countries with no access to electricity.

APsystems will donate $1 to the nonprofit for every microinverter purchased up to the amount of the charity’s 2017 administrative expenses for its Lights for Learning program.

“APsystems is proud to partner with Extend the Day to bring light to these children’s lives.” said Dr. Zhi-min Ling, APsystems Global President & CEO. “We firmly believe in what Extend the Day is doing around the world and are committed to helping them continue to achieve measurable results with their Lights for Learning program.

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“This foundation commitment by APsystems is extraordinary,” said Extend the Day Executive Director Jo Lonseth. “It allows us to focus on expanding our reach and building on the successful projects we already have in Kenya, Nepal and Myanmar.  Success in life for children living in disadvantaged communities often comes down to whether or not they can continue their middle school education. These solar powered lights cost nothing to operate and make it possible for school children to do homework after dark, improve their grades, and stay in school.”

APsystems first learned about the impressive work that Extend the Day is doing when the non-profit asked APsystems for help in designing a more reliable, lightweight, and inexpensive solar powered light. As a world leader in the development of innovative solar power electronic solutions, APsystems was the right choice and eagerly worked with Extend the Day to develop the ideal solution.

For more information on Extend the Day:  extendtheday.org

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APsystems featured in Solar Builder Magazine’s special Inverter Issue

Solar Builder Magazine’s special Inverter Issue is out now, and APsystems is featured throughout.

Always follow best practices to head off gateway communication issues, says Christopher Barrett, APsystems Director of Technical Services, in the “Ask An Expert” feature compiled by Solar Builder editors. Even in a “wireless” world, hard-wired CAT-5 connections can be the best and most reliable option, Christopher says – and save you the time and trouble of returning to the jobsite to sort out Wi-Fi problems.

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Remember to compare warranties when doing your calculations – there’s real value in that certificate, should a system component ever need to be replaced. That’s one of the insights APsystems contributes to an informative story on Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), the formula that determines a solar array’s investment value over its lifetime.

Power and versatility are the hallmarks of the new APsystems YC500i with EnergyMax, a microinverter designed and built for today’s high-output modules, profiled in Solar Builder’s 2017 Inverter Buyers Guide.

Find out more about APsystems microinverters, “The Installers’ Choice,” on the inside front cover of the edition, on newsstands now.

Download the digital edition of Solar Builder’s Inverter Issue here.

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APsystems micros and expanded array boost art museum to LEED Gold rating

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art near Seattle has earned the vaunted LEED Gold environmental certification, making it the first new art museum in Washington state to achieve the Gold rating.

The certification is thanks to a newly expanded solar array using APsystems YC500 dual-module microinverters.

This past fall the museum nearly doubled its array to 100 modules. The 28kW system caps a host of advanced sustainability features that extend from the roof down into the earth beneath the museum itself.

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“What’s thrilling about this achievement is that it affirms how deeply Bainbridge Island and the museum itself care about all aspects of community vitality and wellbeing,” said Sheila Hughes, BIMA Executive Director. “We live, work, visit and raise families in a place that invests equally and deeply in cultural enrichment and in sustainability.

“It’s wonderful to see BIMA’s LEED Gold status, made possible through the generosity of its local donors, as a leading example of both.”

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification – for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – is a progressive code that rates new buildings for sustainability and promotes eco-friendly construction techniques.

Designed by Bainbridge architect Matthew Coates, of Coates Design Architects, BIMA earned high marks for innovation in design, indoor environmental quality, water efficiency, and site sustainability.

“Art museums are inherently energy-intensive, making LEED Gold designation an extremely challenging goal,” Coates said. “We’re proud to demonstrate that architects, builders and clients can work together to create beautiful buildings for our environment and for our planet.”

General contractor PHC Construction worked with the museum staff to secure LEED Gold certification. The expanded PV array provided the final “points” required under the LEED scoring system.

The array uses APsystems YC500 microinverters provided by Blue Frog Solar, and iTek Energy 240W and 280W modules.

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The inverters were provided free of charge by Blue Frog Solar, Northwest distributor for APsytems USA.

“When the art museum came to us with their solar proposal a few years ago, we could tell it would be a special building in every way,” said Tim Bailey, Blue Frog Solar co-founder. “It’s been an honor to contribute to both phases of their solar project, and support such a great institution.”

Several other private donors stepped in so that the solar project had no effect on the non-profit art museum’s budget.

Installer was Puget Sound Solar of Seattle.

BIMA opened in June 2013 to showcase contemporary Northwest art and has been an unqualified success, recently welcoming its 250,000th visitor.

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Building a sustainable museum

Architect Matthew Coates designed the museum to embody forward thinking in both aesthetics and sustainable materials and systems in a facility-scale building.

That commitment started below ground. A geo-exchange system uses 14 bores beneath the foundation to reduce the energy used for heating and cooling the building.

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Drilled 400 feet, the bores act as a heat sink and source at a constant ground temperature of approximately 50 degrees. The system is designed to reduce heating and cooling energy by 90 percent, and to cut peak heating and cooling loads in half.

Thanks to the musuem’s sunny southern exposure, nearly all of the publicly occupied spaces enjoy generous natural light to further reduce energy usage for lighting.

A sophisticated louver system across the two-story glass façade tracks solar angles to reduce heat gain and glare inside.

Low-flow water fixtures inside and Northwest climate-appropriate landscaping reduce water demand.

During construction, 95 percent of construction waste was recycled, while more than 20 percent of new materials came from recycled sources.  All paints, sealants and materials were selected to be non-toxic.

The site itself, on a prominent corner near the ferry terminal that connects the island with downtown Seattle, was reclaimed from a former automotive business.

During site preparation, numerous scrap automobiles and many hundreds of spent tires were excavated from the property and recycled.

BIMA now is an educational institution whose mission is “to engage a diverse population with the art and craft of our region and our time.”

The art museum exhibits, interprets, preserves, collects and promotes works of proven cultural value as well as new those by emerging artists and craftspeople.

Information: www.biartmuseum.org.

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New 32-home San Antonio project powered by APsystems micros

When it comes to solar growth, it doesn’t get much hotter than San Antonio.

The market ranked no. 6 nationally for metropolitan growth in 2015, and no. 7 for the spread of solar, setting the pace for the Lone Star State.

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Those trends converge at 330 Clay Street, a 32-home planned-solar neighborhood by PSW Real Estate now underway in the San Antonio’s arts and culture district, at the south edge of downtown.

Billed as “an oasis in the heart of the city,” the New Urbanism-inspired project features geometrically distinct homes clustered around a winding pedestrian path and drought-friendly, native vegetation. The modern designs are stylish, with acute angles, dramatic roof slopes, and accents of corrugated metal and cedar.

Efficiency features abound, from eco-friendly siding to high-performance windows, tankless water systems with “smart” fixtures, and the latest heat-pump systems for indoor climate control. Sustainable, low-impact materials are used throughout.

Topping it off is solar, with a compact array designed onto every single roof.

Austin-based installer Lighthouse Solar is pairing APsystems YC500 dual-module microinverters with Phono Sun 310W modules. Capacity across the whole neighborhood will be about 73kW from 234 modules at buildout.

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Lighthouse chose APsystems equipment on the recommendation of regional distributor The Power Store, said Burke Ruder, procurement manager.

The Lighthouse installation team found the dual-module microinverters made for a quick install, and less time on the roof under the punishing Texas sun.

“Pretty easy wire management – just plug n’ play, man,” said Josh Bernard, one of the three-man crew at Clay Street.

Elijah Zane Echeveste, PSW Real Estate sales consultant for San Antonio, said PSW has been including a solar component on its homes for about three years.

Individual arrays at 330 Clay Street are modest – seven or eight modules per roof – putting solar onto every home while keeping price points attractive to a range of buyers. Home start at $295,000 for 1,250-sf, two-bedroom unit.

The energy package is paying off in early interest from buyers.

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“Solar was important, and green-built was important,” said David McDonald, 330 Clay Street’s very first resident. On a recent afternoon, the expatriate Briton was taking delivery of appliances even as the half-finished neighborhood around him thrummed with the sounds of construction.

“We do a lot of green builds back in the Britain,” McDonald said, “and this might be one of the first ones in San Antonio with the option of solar and all of the sort of ‘green’ things around the house.”

Several other projects are also planned or underway in the corridor, including a sprawling former Lone Star brewery complex slated for mixed-use redevelopment on the banks of the San Antonio River.

The influx of stylish new residential and commercial development amplifies Southtown’s reputation as the city’s hot “bohemian” center for galleries, nightlife and culture.

“The area was important – we didn’t want to go outside of downtown,” McDonald said. “You can walk to all the restaurants and bars, even walk into downtown. We were the first to sign up, and it’ll be a good investment for us.”

The 330 Clay Street project reflects a fast-growing local solar market.

San Antonio is the top-ranked market in Texas, according to a recent report by Environment America. Solar capacity within the city limits jumped 23 percent year over year, from 88 megawatts to 108 megawatts – with significantly more capacity coming online in surrounding areas thanks to utility-scale solar farms.

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About 207 megawatts were installed statewide in 2015, according to Environment Texas. Solar advocates credit a successful incentive program, which has fed consumer interest despite the state not having a net-metering law.

“Solar is an attractive feature for our buyers,” said Echeveste of PSW. “One of the largest reasons is that the solar panels reduce cost in energy bills and also increase the value of the homes. There is an environmental responsibility aspect with buyers wanting to be a part of this.”

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Solar MLPE hacks for the installer edge

APsystems-Fresno-roof1Time is money. We’ve all heard the age-old adage, but if you’re a solar installation company, it absolutely rings true: time is your worst enemy. Labor is expensive, so the longer a project takes, the more it costs an installer to put in a solar system, and it comes right out of their bottom line. Non-hardware costs such as installation labor, permitting fees and interconnection costs are referred to as “soft costs.” According to the U.S. Department of Energy, these soft or “plug-in” costs of solar account for as much as 64% of the total cost of a new solar system, and labor is one of the largest culprits. It’s no surprise that solar installers are looking for ways to reduce these costs, and any tool or trick they can employ to speed a project along may just give them the edge they need to not only survive in this highly competitive industry, but to thrive.

One challenge in this effort to reduce labor costs, is the growth in utilization of module-level power electronics (MLPEs) such as microinverters and DC optimizers. Unlike string inverters which, for residential applications, typically mean a single string inverter is serving all the PV modules on the roof, each MLPE is typically serving a single module. Although an MLPE solar system is often more expensive in initial capital costs and more labor-intensive to install compared with string inverters, it also has a better levelized cost of energy (LCOE) over string inverters as MLPE systems produce more energy over the life of system. It makes sense, then, why MLPE systems comprised 62% of the U.S. residential solar market in 2015, according to GTM Research, and the market isn’t done there as MLPE is predicted to be the fastest-growing product segment over the next five years.

Installers are feeling the time crunch and the challenge today is even greater to take a high-demand yet labor-intensive product and still perform a profitable installation. Let’s take a look at a few ways to streamline the MLPE installation process with some serious solar hacks.

 

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Microinverters which serve multiple modules exist today and with 2-to-1 and even 4-to-1 module to microinverter options available, homeowners can still get the benefits of an MLPE systems with independent MPPT per module, while installers cleverly reduce the amount of units they’re having to put on the roof by 50% to 75%.

 

MLPE ARCHITECTURE
Most MLPE systems utilize a trunk bus cable to which installers then attach every microinverter. Not only are trunk cables an expensive part of the system, but placing it on the roof and securing the cable to the racking takes time. Products, such as the APsystems YC500A, utilize a daisy-chain method of cabling and do away with the trunk cable. What’s more, the daisy chain is pre-integrated into the unit so it comes completely pre-cabled and ready to go.

 

APsystems demo-thumbFREE TRAINING
Most solar equipment manufacturers offer free training webinars and videos on their products anymore so absolutely take advantage of this. Don’t miss out on the time (and money) saving tips you can pick up in a short training course or online video series.

 

GATEWAY SET-UP
The gateway communication unit for microinverter installations can be a breeze if installers follow a few simple tips for commissioning the system. Connect the gateway to the internet via a standard Ethernet cable so it can download the most current firmware before you begin to commission the system. Ideally, you’ll want to do this after the inverter installation but before module installation so the unit can update while your team puts panels on the roof so you don’t lose time. Be sure to connect cables in the right order as some gateways may take longer if power is applied before the network cable (unless the system will be connected via Wi-Fi). Obtaining the homeowner’s Wi-Fi network information and password before hitting the jobsite will also save you time in connecting the gateway.

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TIME-SAVING APPS
There are some amazing apps out there for solar installers that can help installers streamline system setup. ArrayApp by APsystems, for example, allows installers to create the homeowner account for online monitoring, scan units directly without having to wait for up to 30 minutes for auto-detection of the inverters and create the array site map all from their mobile phone or tablet. Simply search for ArrayApp on your iPhone App Store or Google Play for Android devices.

Taking advantage of these time-saving measures can save an installer money but also help them get more installations completed in a single day. As the solar industry continues to lean heavily toward MLPE systems, finding ways to install faster and more effectively can mean the difference between a profitable operation and one that struggles to be competitive. Be sure to do your research, training, find out what other installers are doing and build your own list of valuable solar installation hacks.

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APsystems microinverters powering multifamily solar at Grow Community

Condos, apartments, townhomes – three flavors of multifamily construction, each with its own challenges for reaping the power, and financial benefits, of solar investment.

Asani development company is tackling all three at once at Grow Community on Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle.

On buildings dubbed the Salal, the Juniper and the Elan, now complete in the project’s expansive second phase, solar arrays will benefit both homebuyers and renters alike.

One roof apiece, with many beneficiaries beneath.

“Our investors said, ‘let’s go for it,’” said Greg Lotakis, Asani president and Grow Community project manager. “Without their desire to be the largest solar community in Washington, and wanting to plant the solar flag in the ground, we wouldn’t be doing this. Without their support, it wouldn’t be possible.”

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The Salal condominiums, with 12 units spread over three stories, is effectively a “community solar” project on a rooftop. Solar was included in the purchase price – no buyer option – and incentives from the State of Washington will be apportioned equally among condominium owners. Each will own a one-twelfth interest in the array.

Asani worked with state officials and the local utility provider to craft a program that satisfies the complicated provisions of Washington law.

The opening was a provision allowing common use of single roof for solar in multifamily buildings. Asani banked on prospective buyers seeing shared solar as a good investment as they bought their condo units, one that promised annual paybacks while lowering operational costs of their building through solar harvest.

Solar was designed into the Salal building. A single production meter monitors total system output, while 12 sub-meters track consumption in individual units for utility billing.
Buyers are rolling the cost of solar, about $15,000 per unit, into their mortgages to take advantage of low interest rates at the time of purchase.

“We wanted it very clean and divisible by all the owners,” Lotakis said. “I think it would be pretty difficult for six, 10, 12 people to come together and agree upon how the system would work after the fact. This gave us a chance to just deliver it.”

Lotakis expects the 44kW array to produce about $1,500 in incentives per unit annually – cumulatively much higher than the state’s $5,000 cap on incentives for a single-family residence.

Next door at the 12-unit Juniper apartment building, the 44kW rooftop array is similar but the equation is different. Renters will enjoy the benefits of solar production through net-metering, but not the annual state solar rebate. That will go to the building’s single owner, and will max out at the state’s $5,000 cap. The Juniper building array includes APsystems YC1000 true 3-phase microinverters.

The two-story Elan townhomes presented the most straightforward challenge. Individual 6-9kW solar packages are offered for each section of the common roof. No modules will cross the “virtual lot lines,” making each system self-contained within the owner’s patch of rooftop. Three systems have been installed so far, including APsystems YC500A microinverters.


GROWING NEIGHBORHOOD SOLAR

From project inception, Asani set out to build the most environmentally friendly development possible.
Relentless sourcing of renewable materials and low-impact fixtures, and close connection to the island’s town center, have positioned Grow Community in the marketplace for healthy lifestyle-conscious buyers.

The project’s first phase is noted for its shared pea-patch gardens and winding footpaths through close-set homes. The second and third phases are oriented around a woodland grove and open greenway.

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The project has earned recognition in national magazines and won awards from local and national homebuilder associations. It is only the second planned community in North America to be certified under the rigorous One Planet Living standards.

Grow’s first phase of 23 detached units sold out immediately, and every homeowner chose to add the solar package.

Asani has also showcased Made In Washington components to support the state’s solar industry.
Modules at the Salal are by Itek Energy of Bellingham, WA, while the Juniper and Elan arrays include APsystems microinverters manufactured and distributed by Blue Frog Solar of nearby Poulsbo.

Using a mix of in-state and out-of-state components allows Asani to achieve different price points for buyers while optimizing local incentives where possible.

Lotakis cautions that Grow Community’s multifamily solar program relies on particularities in Washington law. Multifamily programs elsewhere would face their own challenges, although he believes Grow offers a useful model for developers nationwide to consider.

With the Salal building only recently certified for occupancy, new residents have no comparative data on their energy savings. But the solar component was attractive, as it has been to buyers throughout the three-neighborhood, 142-home project due to be completed in late 2017.

“Solar was a factor,” one new resident said, “along with a development that encourages a sense of community.”

Between the federal tax credit and annual rebates from the state, Lotakis said, owners buying into the Salal condominiums could have their share of the common array paid off within five years.

“And because they’ve rolled the cost of solar into their mortgage, they don’t really see it,” he said. “Those production checks will be like a dividend.”

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Why microinverters are a good option for commercial solar projects

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.52.14 PMSafety and NEC compliance, system monitoring, energy harvest – count the reasons for the popularity of microinverters in the MLPE marketplace.

APsystems and Solar Power World Online recently collaborated on an article and informational webinar discussing these and other advantages of microinverter technology. The webinar event was hosted by Christopher Barrett, technical services manager for APsystems USA.

Read the article here, then sign up to watch the archived webinar and find out why installers worldwide choose APsystems for the residential and commercial customers.

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Why microinverters are a safer design for solar

Solar power is gaining a coalition of fans, their numbers growing as PV spreads around the globe. But many emergency responders aren’t yet sold, and understandably so. They, and others, are concerned with the electrical safety of these new and often unfamiliar systems. The idea of high-voltage DC sizzling across a rooftop is a stark prospect for anyone who might come in contact with a PV array while battling a building fire, or even performing routine maintenance.

APsystems-supportSeeing the need for safety standards, regulators enacted “Rapid Shutdown” requirements (found in NEC 2014 690.12) to protect first responders from any high-voltage DC hazards that might remain after AC service has been disrupted or shut off. While manufacturers have responded to NEC 2014 with varying strategies–including add-on “DC combiner boxes” for string inverter arrays–one popular PV product already has Rapid Shutdown built into every unit: the microinverter.

When the AC circuit goes down for any reason, each unit in a microinverter array performs its own shutdown function in just 100 milliseconds–100 times faster than the code-specified standard of 10 seconds for shutdown.System voltage at shutdown is about 30V DC, meeting the stringent NEC 2014 requirement and well below the 80-V threshold generally considered safe for contact.

chrisSafety doesn’t end there. Microinverters also offer safety advantages when it comes to the DC conductor requirement in the standard. For example, a system designed using APsystems microinverters will have no DC conductors energized more than 5 ft in length within a building or more than 10 ft from the array, which meets the NEC 2014 standard (and is already looking ahead to NEC 2017).

Also, any present low-voltage lines will be located beneath solar modules, eliminating the chance of contact during rooftop activity.
Powerful, reliable, economical, microinverters have had plenty to recommend them since they entered the MLPE product field. As electrical codes evolve to protect responders and homeowners alike, the humble microinverter is not only meeting these tough new standards, but anticipating them.

By: Christopher Barrett, engineering and technical services manager for APsystems USA. Contact him at christopher.barrett@apsystems.com.

To learn more, watch his webinar presentation here. 

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ECU + EMA = a powerful duo for your microinverter array

Module-level monitoring is an essential feature of a microinverter solar array. APsystems offers advanced and user-friendly system monitoring for installers and end users alike.

The APsystems Energy Communication Unit is the gateway to our microinverters. An array can be easily configured BEFORE reaching the jobsite, so commissioning is a breeze. And the ECU requires no additional wiring; the simple plug-and-power design simplifies setup at the customer’s home or business.

The Energy Monitoring & Analysis software offers comprehensive, round-the-clock assurance of system performance. The homeowner’s EMA account provides module-level data, production and savings over time, while the installer account offers a more robust feature set for system configuration, mapping and control.

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Find out all about the ECU and EMA and our advanced microinverter solutions here.
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5 Reasons a String Inverter Won’t Cut It.

Microinverters or string? PV system designers fall into two camps, some favoring big inverters and others moving toward the powerful little boxes that meet each module where the real action is: on the roof.

Knowing the limitations of string inverters may tell you just why the Module Level Power Electronics segment – microinverters – is on the rise.

 

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Not made in the shade:
A PV array only works as well as the lowest-performing module. That means intermittent shading from trees, flagpoles – even fallen leaves – can cripple a string of modules as even minor shadows pass across the array throughout the day.

By offering independent, module-level inversion, a microinverter installation can outperform a conventional string array by up 20 percent. You’ll get the most out of every module, every hour of the day.

 

Want to add modules? Too bad:
A string inverter that’s right-sized for an array today may be too small if you want to add more modules tomorrow. That means buying a bigger inverter, too. Ouch.

Microinverters are the forward-thinking choice, letting you add on to your array at any time, easily and cost effectively.

 

Better value in the long run:
Startup costs of a string system might be lower on a per-watt basis, but what you save up front, you’ll lose over time in lower performance.

The key metric of Levelized Cost of Energy – that is, system cost measured over its lifetime – favors microinverters. The microinverters start generating power at lower light levels than string inverters, so the power curve raises and peaks earlier in the day and extends further into the afternoon and evening.

Thanks to module-level inversion at these lower light levels, microinverters enjoy a superior output and higher rate of energy production.

 

Don’t forget safety:
Every module in a string adds more to the DC current flowing across the rooftop – quite a volt load by the time it reaches a inverter, up to 1,000 volts DC. Not very safe for installers or emergency responders who may have to cross the roof.

Microinverters take the jolts out of the volts. Module-level inversion means only low-voltage DC in each circuit, keeping you safe over the life of the system.

 

Module-level power is the future:
String inverters still have their niche, but module-level power inversion is tomorrow’s technology today. A leading analytics firm recently noted that sales of microinverters and related products should top 2 gigwatts by year’s end, and predicts the microinverters’ share of the larger MLPE market could triple by 2018.

That’s a product with a bright future.

Still not convinced? Hear what solar professionals have to say at our APsystems video channel on YouTube. Find out why installers choose APsystems microninverter technology over conventional string systems, and then put module-level power to work in your next PV project.

 

Module-inverter mismatch:
For best performance, the power rating of modules must be matched to that of the string inverter that serves them. Yet these inverters offer a narrow range of power ratings that may not correspond to the cumulative output of the array. You may be buying more inverter than you really need.

Module-level inversion lets you to match inverters to modules throughout the array. Pay for the inversion power you need to get the job done – and no more.

 

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