From MIT's Technology Review:
As manufacturers work to drive down the cost of solar power, refining solar cells and panels to make them more efficient is only half the story. Another option is to incorporate newer electronics into the panels that could boost the power output of photovoltaic systems and make them easier to design and install.
Suntech Power, the world's largest maker of crystalline-silicon solar modules, based in Wuxi, China, has announced partnerships with Santa Clara, California-based National Semiconductor and other solar electronics makers to develop "smart" panels that would give the most power possible even if other panels are underperforming due to damage or to sunlight being blocked by shade or debris. This kind of system is useful because in conventional photovoltaic systems, one panel's performance affects the output of the whole system. "We think smart module technology is a clear path for the future," says Andrew Beebe, Suntech's chief commercial officer.
Solar manufacturers are finding it difficult to eke out additional increases in how efficiently crystalline-silicon solar panels convert sunlight into electricity--so solar innovation has shifted to back-of-the-panel electronics. "Every incremental power advantage brings down cost per watt, and electronics are where the improvements are going to be," says Matthew Feinstein, a research associate at Lux Research....MORE
Electronic power boost: This chip setis the heart of National Semiconductor’spower-optimization device for solar arrays.Attached behind every solar panel in anarray, the electronics could correct for adrop in the array’s power output due toshading or debris, increasing the final outputby 25 percent or more.
Credit: Courtesy of National Semiconductor