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Power Optimizer Boosts Solar Efficiency

Power Optimizer Boosts Solar Efficiency

A new power optimizer promises to recoup as much as half the energy that might otherwise be lost as a result of shading on solar panels.

Known as SolarMagic, the new chipset employs advanced software algorithms and mixed-signal technology to reduce the current and voltage mismatches that occur when one part of a solar array is in sunlight while another part is in the shade.

"It enables consumers to put solar on roofs that otherwise might not be eligible," says Ralf Muenster, director of the Renewable Energy Segment for National Semiconductor Corp., maker of the new technology. "Typically, we can recoup 50 to 60 percent of the energy that would otherwise be lost."

Mismatches have become a significant obstacle for homeowners and businesses that want to employ solar panels, largely because they can cause some of the power from bright sunlight to be lost. "A lot of residences in the United States have trees and chimneys or other obstructions," Muenster says. "And if you have an impairment in a long string of cells, it's like a kink in a garden hose. Nothing goes through."

The problem is so significant that a 1- to 2-percent mismatch could cause a 10-percent loss of the power across the entire array, and a 10-percent mismatch can rob the system of 50 percent of its potential power, Muenster says.

National Semiconductor promises to change that scenario, however. By placing its chipset on the back of a panel, the company says it can find the "maximum energy obstruction point" of the panel and then convert the voltage and current to levels that minimize the mismatch. As a result, it optimizes the energy throughput of the panel so that small impairments don't affect surrounding panels.

"We took our power management experience and put together a solution that solves the mismatch problem," Muenster says. "This can increase the photovoltaic efficiency of even the largest arrays in the desert." For more information, go tohttp://designnews.hotims.com/27742-529.

Power Optimizer Boosts Solar Efficiency

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