The solar photovoltaic (PV) market has evolved over the past five years from a condition of shortage of supply, low efficiency levels, and relatively high prices to its current state of proliferation of producers, overcapacity, and a drive to differentiate similar panel products through aesthetics and “nice to have” add-on features.
The dilemma for design engineers in a market with oversupply and reducing prices is what level of confidence exists in low-cost suppliers? A related question is whether "low cost" is really a pseudonym for low quality. That's because the imperative to save on cost can sometimes compromise excellence in production. Furthermore, with a profusion of panel models available, it can be a complex decision to know which features should be incorporated into a PV array. With a wide range of panel types available and no end of advice from manufacturers (each claiming competitive advantage), installers, and government-sponsored agencies, the selection choice can be baffling.
Constantly changing tariff feed-in rates is another factor to consider, as the calculation on the investment payback period can vary according to changing legislation. In fact, the only reason tariffs exist is to encourage consumer take-up and perhaps artificially create a market demand for product.
As grid parity -- the level where cost of production of fossil-based fuels matches cost of solar power generation -- approaches, then tariffs will be completely removed. This will then take much of the financial justification out of the equation, leaving the consumer to make a decision purely based on a drive to avail of renewable “green” energy supply.
Molex has been aiming for market diversification, with a broad portfolio of SolarSpec connectors suitable for a variety of PV-related applications. These play in both consumer markets and in rapidly evolving smart grid apps. We've also fielded junction box solutions with an eye toward enabling Western PV producers to compete with the low-cost Asian-based manufacturing sources.
About the author
Peter Commane, Global Product Manager for Molex Solar connectors, wrote this post. He is based in the company's design centre in Shannon, Ireland. To read related content, go to Molex's The Connector blog.