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Israeli company SolarEdge was the first to break into the global market last week with a unique distributed Power Harvesting and Monitoring system which they say will increase the efficiency of photovoltaic solar arrays. The Herzliya-based company run by Guy Sella debuted its technology at the prestigious Intersolar exhibition in Germany.
Generally, the electrical output from solar arrays (usually about 15 solar panels lined up in a row) are controlled by a single device which decides how much voltage and current to use at any given time, Sella explained to The Jerusalem Post last week shortly before flying to Germany. Since the panels' outputs are linked, if one panel is affected by an outside factor like shade or a malfunction, the entire efficiency of the array is reduced.
SolarEdge has pioneered a product which offers individual command and control of each panel, thus enabling arrays to perform at higher efficiency. A specially developed PowerBox with specifically designed microchips is attached to each panel. That box provides constant information which enables individual calibration.
The company has thus far installed 16 demo systems for some interested companies, Sella said. To prove their product, they install a full array where half the panels are controlled by SolarEdge's new system and the other half by the competition. According to Sella, their devices have consistently outperformed the competition under real world conditions. Sella said their products were designed for real world scenarios where obstructions reduced panel efficiency.
Sella served in the elite General Reconnaissance Unit [Sayeret Matkal] in the IDF before attending the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. After graduating, he was wooed back to the army, this time to head the Military Intelligence Branch Technology Unit. A few years after leaving the army, Sella and several of his former technology unit colleagues - Lior Handelsman, Yoav Galin, Meir Adest, and Amir Fishelov - founded SolarEdge in 2006. Between the five of them, they have won three Defense of Israel Awards.
In addition to the PowerBoxes, the company has developed more efficient, smaller and lighter inverters, which convert the Direct Current (DC) from the panels to the current used in households, alternating current (AC).
While there are other companies in the world working on similar ideas, Sella acknowledged, none of them were close yet to entering the consumer market. He added that they would be ready for general availability in late July and mass production at the beginning of August.
To develop the system, SolarEdge technicians developed two special microchips as part of the system to offer Maximum Power Point Tracking, or MPPT, directly from each panel. Future versions will have the same capability using one chip, Sella predicted. In addition to the chips, the PowerBoxes have been designed to withstand high temperatures in a solar field for twenty years.
The individual panel monitoring function will also help improve efficiency and security. Until now, Sella said, if a drop in efficiency was noted, technicians had to go row by row to check if a panel had been damaged. That can take a long time with arrays of thousands of panels.
With the SolarEdge system, any problems with a panel are immediately made known to the operators. In addition, panel theft could now be prevented since each panel was now virtually visible to the operators around the clock.
The company raised $10.75 million in its first round of fundraising in 2007 and its first functioning prototype was ready in early 2008. The company employs 60 people, mostly in Israel but also has a presence in the US, Europe and Japan. They hope to be licensed for Israel, Australia and the EU shortly and for the US and Canada in August, according to Sella.
Shortly after its launch, the company announced partnership or cooperation agreements with Schott Solar, BP Solar and Gehrlicher Solar.