Ampt has a proprietary power conversion technology protected by patents. But to use it effectively, it must be part of a solar system’s architecture. The economics of building that entire architecture, inverter, junction box and panel, is presently unworkable.
The alternative is a partnership with inverter, junction box and solar module makers. The High Definition PV Alliance is Ampt’s solution. The partners get access to Ampt’s technology, Ampt gets a place in the system architecture and solar system builders get potentially impressive cost savings.
“By ourselves, Ampt would be challenged to provide these cost savings,” acknowledged Ampt Sales and Marketing VP Evan Vogel. The Alliance’s set of business partnerships is “an end-to-end pre-tested solution that is predictable and characterized,” Vogel said, “and at a lower system cost.
On the soon-to-be-launched HD PV website, Vogel said, a system builder can compare solutions from inverter partners KACO New Energy, REFUsol and LTI REEnergy. Shoals Technologies and Amphenol have signed on as junction box partners and, Vogel said, “new partners are lining up quickly.” Solar module vendors Suniva, ZNShine, Upsolar and Eoplly are on board, as are monitoring service providers meteocontrol, Next Generation Energy, AlsoEnergy, and DECK Monitoring.
“Alliances are the way that companies join together but in solar it has never happened,” Vogel explained, because the best alliance partners are one another’s competitors.
“The reason they have come to this alliance,” Vogel said, is they recognize the patented Ampt technology provides a unique ability to drive down system cost, and they want to be a part of it.” Competitors have seen the benefit of signing on to Ampt’s Alliance, he said, “because they recognize it will change how utility-scale systems will be built in the near future.”
“Power conversion electronics prepares the power coming from the solar panel for the inverter,” Vogel explained. “Tigo does something similar. That’s the class of product we fall in.”
Ampt’s patented device “can’t take cost out of the inverter, but we can facilitate a much lower cost inverter,” Vogel said.
“Power conversion of any kind likes to have a well-conditioned, narrow-ranged, very predictable input,” Vogel explained. “The problem for solar inverters is that solar modules are not going to give them that. What we do is prepare the power coming from the solar panel." That, he said, alters inverter capability.
“LTI has a 600-kilowatt station. Without our devices at the junction boxes on the back of each panel, you would need five of the 600-kilowatt inverters for a three-megawatt installation. But the Ampt device conditions the power so that a 600-kilowatt inverter can turn a megawatt of DC into AC, Vogel explained. “So instead of needing five, only three are necessary.”
And, he added, “when that inverter went from 600 kilowatts to a megawatt, in terms of dollars per watt, the price of the box itself doesn’t change, but the dollars-per-watt on a system level went down 40 percent. That’s a big change.”
The Shoals MultiLink Junction Box “is set up with a pair of connectors that we clip and lock into. If it takes a minute, that’s a lot,” he said. “And the electronics have the same warranty as the solar module: 25 years.”
The solar industry, Vogel said, “is driving maniacally toward lower cost. For everybody we speak to, whatever piece of the puzzle they provide, they are getting pounded on for price.” The Alliance “can take cost out of the system with an architecture change. There is no way to accelerate that other than, we think, architecture changes.”
Because the Ampt power conversion device operates in utility-scale projects at the panel level instead of the string or multiple string level, Vogel added, every panel generates as much as possible at any given moment, with an average four percent per panel increase.
Ampt’s biggest actual installation to date is a 100-kilowatt system. “The interface is just now becoming a reality,” Vogel acknowledged, because until now, “the labor to install our technology on an individual panel level worked against our cost savings.” With the snap in connectors, that has been remedied. And the devices and connectors are TUV- and UL-approved, Vogel noted.
“We have smaller commercial systems that people are using as the litmus test to go into very high volume and higher-powered systems. We are transitioning from the smaller scale to some very large opportunities in installations we will be doing in 2013," he said.