Until recently, the electronics used in PV systems – inverters and Balance of System (BOS) have been an overlooked and underinvested part of the solar ecosystem, despite being a more than $2.2 billion market.

But in the last two years, there has been a surge in investment and entrepreneurial activity in solar BoS. We have listed all of the companies in this sub-sector here.

eIQ Energy, a startup in this market, founded in 2007 with a staff of 25 located in San Jose, Calif. just emerged from stealth. The firm falls into the distributed maximum power point tracking camp (as opposed to the microinverter camp) and has a new slant on the distributed electronics angle.
I spoke with CEO Oliver Janssen, CTO Gene Krzywinski, and VP of Business Development Michael Lamb. "It's important to differentiate our solution," said Janssen. "Like the microinverters and distributed MPPT firms – we have distributed MPPT and performance monitoring."  But the CEO claims that their difference is that they "enable a truly parallel architecture – the panels do not have to be connected in series and you no longer have to design a string." 

Greentech Media has covered the advantages of distributed MPPT before – amongst the many benefits are reduced loss due to shadowing, soiling, or panel mismatch.  It enables differing roof pitches, incremental additions to the system, and provides design and safety advantages.

"We are making each panel do a DC boost onto a bus," said CTO Krzywinski. The eIQ system uses a distributed "vBoost" module – a small DC-to-DC converter that attaches to one or more panels in an array and provides maximum power point tracking while also stepping up panel output voltage to a constant level and creating a bus architecture. The company claims that its architecture enables the connection of unprecedented numbers of panels on a single cable run – up to more than 100 thin-film panels. 

According to the company – balance of system components (cabling, combiner boxes, racks, and design and installation fees) account for 25 percent to 40 percent of an array’s per-watt cost – and represent a substantial opportunity for reduction in up-front expenditures.

"There is substantial cost savings in optimizing the power capacity of the copper plant,  you could connect one hundred or more panels per cable run with a significant savings in the BoS – wiring, combiner boxes, and labor," said VP Mike Lamb.  To make installation faster and potentially less expensive, vBoost modules include an integrated wiring harness with snap-together connectors, eliminating the need for extensive on-site wiring.

"Those savings will more than offset the cost of our system," said Lamb, adding, "Though incremental power boost is one of the benefits of our solution – we are not relying on incremental energy harvest to offset the cost of our system." 

The company's main customer interactions are with installers and PPA providers (as opposed to module manufacturers). "We are installing small commercial beta installations," Janssen noted, adding, "We believe we have a compelling value proposition for commercial applications."
eIQ's modules work with industry-standard central inverters to which the eIQ system provides consistent and steady voltages, allowing the inverter to operate in its most efficient range with maximum reliability.

The investment climate is changing – the once stagnant inverter and balance of plant market is being shaken up by VC investment and entrepreneurial innovation. In addition to being a sector with room for technical innovation and performance enhancement, the inverter market is also more capital efficient than the solar panel manufacturing sector. And capital efficiency is this year’s VC mantra.

eIQ could be one of those capital efficient game-changers. The firm joins SolarEdge, Tigo Energy, and National Senmiconductor as one of the competitors in the distributed MPPT sector and S.E.T. in the parallel architecture field. EnPhase's microinverters remain the dominant player so far in the distributed electronics field with more than 50,000 units shipped since last August.

More details in the GTI Report: The Coming Disruption in the PV Inverter Market.