New 32-home San Antonio project powered by APsystems micros

When it comes to solar growth, it doesn’t get much hotter than San Antonio.

The market ranked no. 6 nationally for metropolitan growth in 2015, and no. 7 for the spread of solar, setting the pace for the Lone Star State.

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Those trends converge at 330 Clay Street, a 32-home planned-solar neighborhood by PSW Real Estate now underway in the San Antonio’s arts and culture district, at the south edge of downtown.

Billed as “an oasis in the heart of the city,” the New Urbanism-inspired project features geometrically distinct homes clustered around a winding pedestrian path and drought-friendly, native vegetation. The modern designs are stylish, with acute angles, dramatic roof slopes, and accents of corrugated metal and cedar.

Efficiency features abound, from eco-friendly siding to high-performance windows, tankless water systems with “smart” fixtures, and the latest heat-pump systems for indoor climate control. Sustainable, low-impact materials are used throughout.

Topping it off is solar, with a compact array designed onto every single roof.

Austin-based installer Lighthouse Solar is pairing APsystems YC500 dual-module microinverters with Phono Sun 310W modules. Capacity across the whole neighborhood will be about 73kW from 234 modules at buildout.

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Lighthouse chose APsystems equipment on the recommendation of regional distributor The Power Store, said Burke Ruder, procurement manager.

The Lighthouse installation team found the dual-module microinverters made for a quick install, and less time on the roof under the punishing Texas sun.

“Pretty easy wire management – just plug n’ play, man,” said Josh Bernard, one of the three-man crew at Clay Street.

Elijah Zane Echeveste, PSW Real Estate sales consultant for San Antonio, said PSW has been including a solar component on its homes for about three years.

Individual arrays at 330 Clay Street are modest – seven or eight modules per roof – putting solar onto every home while keeping price points attractive to a range of buyers. Home start at $295,000 for 1,250-sf, two-bedroom unit.

The energy package is paying off in early interest from buyers.

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“Solar was important, and green-built was important,” said David McDonald, 330 Clay Street’s very first resident. On a recent afternoon, the expatriate Briton was taking delivery of appliances even as the half-finished neighborhood around him thrummed with the sounds of construction.

“We do a lot of green builds back in the Britain,” McDonald said, “and this might be one of the first ones in San Antonio with the option of solar and all of the sort of ‘green’ things around the house.”

Several other projects are also planned or underway in the corridor, including a sprawling former Lone Star brewery complex slated for mixed-use redevelopment on the banks of the San Antonio River.

The influx of stylish new residential and commercial development amplifies Southtown’s reputation as the city’s hot “bohemian” center for galleries, nightlife and culture.

“The area was important – we didn’t want to go outside of downtown,” McDonald said. “You can walk to all the restaurants and bars, even walk into downtown. We were the first to sign up, and it’ll be a good investment for us.”

The 330 Clay Street project reflects a fast-growing local solar market.

San Antonio is the top-ranked market in Texas, according to a recent report by Environment America. Solar capacity within the city limits jumped 23 percent year over year, from 88 megawatts to 108 megawatts – with significantly more capacity coming online in surrounding areas thanks to utility-scale solar farms.

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About 207 megawatts were installed statewide in 2015, according to Environment Texas. Solar advocates credit a successful incentive program, which has fed consumer interest despite the state not having a net-metering law.

“Solar is an attractive feature for our buyers,” said Echeveste of PSW. “One of the largest reasons is that the solar panels reduce cost in energy bills and also increase the value of the homes. There is an environmental responsibility aspect with buyers wanting to be a part of this.”

Solar MLPE hacks for the installer edge

APsystems-Fresno-roof1Time is money. We’ve all heard the age-old adage, but if you’re a solar installation company, it absolutely rings true: time is your worst enemy. Labor is expensive, so the longer a project takes, the more it costs an installer to put in a solar system, and it comes right out of their bottom line. Non-hardware costs such as installation labor, permitting fees and interconnection costs are referred to as “soft costs.” According to the U.S. Department of Energy, these soft or “plug-in” costs of solar account for as much as 64% of the total cost of a new solar system, and labor is one of the largest culprits. It’s no surprise that solar installers are looking for ways to reduce these costs, and any tool or trick they can employ to speed a project along may just give them the edge they need to not only survive in this highly competitive industry, but to thrive.

One challenge in this effort to reduce labor costs, is the growth in utilization of module-level power electronics (MLPEs) such as microinverters and DC optimizers. Unlike string inverters which, for residential applications, typically mean a single string inverter is serving all the PV modules on the roof, each MLPE is typically serving a single module. Although an MLPE solar system is often more expensive in initial capital costs and more labor-intensive to install compared with string inverters, it also has a better levelized cost of energy (LCOE) over string inverters as MLPE systems produce more energy over the life of system. It makes sense, then, why MLPE systems comprised 62% of the U.S. residential solar market in 2015, according to GTM Research, and the market isn’t done there as MLPE is predicted to be the fastest-growing product segment over the next five years.

Installers are feeling the time crunch and the challenge today is even greater to take a high-demand yet labor-intensive product and still perform a profitable installation. Let’s take a look at a few ways to streamline the MLPE installation process with some serious solar hacks.

 

APsystems-YC1000-4panels-side-sm-1030x928TIME-SAVING PRODUCTS
Microinverters which serve multiple modules exist today and with 2-to-1 and even 4-to-1 module to microinverter options available, homeowners can still get the benefits of an MLPE systems with independent MPPT per module, while installers cleverly reduce the amount of units they’re having to put on the roof by 50% to 75%.

 

MLPE ARCHITECTURE
Most MLPE systems utilize a trunk bus cable to which installers then attach every microinverter. Not only are trunk cables an expensive part of the system, but placing it on the roof and securing the cable to the racking takes time. Products, such as the APsystems YC500A, utilize a daisy-chain method of cabling and do away with the trunk cable. What’s more, the daisy chain is pre-integrated into the unit so it comes completely pre-cabled and ready to go.

 

APsystems demo-thumbFREE TRAINING
Most solar equipment manufacturers offer free training webinars and videos on their products anymore so absolutely take advantage of this. Don’t miss out on the time (and money) saving tips you can pick up in a short training course or online video series.

 

GATEWAY SET-UP
The gateway communication unit for microinverter installations can be a breeze if installers follow a few simple tips for commissioning the system. Connect the gateway to the internet via a standard Ethernet cable so it can download the most current firmware before you begin to commission the system. Ideally, you’ll want to do this after the inverter installation but before module installation so the unit can update while your team puts panels on the roof so you don’t lose time. Be sure to connect cables in the right order as some gateways may take longer if power is applied before the network cable (unless the system will be connected via Wi-Fi). Obtaining the homeowner’s Wi-Fi network information and password before hitting the jobsite will also save you time in connecting the gateway.

FFHRDG Closeup of mobile phone taking picture of blue solar panels

TIME-SAVING APPS
There are some amazing apps out there for solar installers that can help installers streamline system setup. ArrayApp by APsystems, for example, allows installers to create the homeowner account for online monitoring, scan units directly without having to wait for up to 30 minutes for auto-detection of the inverters and create the array site map all from their mobile phone or tablet. Simply search for ArrayApp on your iPhone App Store or Google Play for Android devices.

Taking advantage of these time-saving measures can save an installer money but also help them get more installations completed in a single day. As the solar industry continues to lean heavily toward MLPE systems, finding ways to install faster and more effectively can mean the difference between a profitable operation and one that struggles to be competitive. Be sure to do your research, training, find out what other installers are doing and build your own list of valuable solar installation hacks.

University of Kansas (USA) architecture students take solar construction into the future

Powering old homes with solar is only half the renewable-energy equation.

Designing and building new homes that make the most of that renewable power – achieving ultra-efficient “Net Zero” construction, and beyond – is the next frontier for sustainable living.

American graduate students in the University of Kansas Department of Architecture, Design and Planning are pushing construction into the future through Studio 804, a nonprofit organization that tests their drafting-board skills against real-world challenges.

Where conventional construction ends, the Studio 804 program begins.

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“If a group full of students who have never worked construction or designed and built a project can accomplish these highly sustainable buildings, it shows what the industry as a whole should be capable of,” said Taylor Pickman, now in his fifth and final year in the colloquially known “M-Arch” program. “We like to think we’re setting an example in that sense.”

Their most recent success: the East Lawrence Passive House, an innovative solar home set among the tree-lined streets of a quintessential college town, a mix of modest historic homes, and even the mansions of nineteenth century industrial tycoons.

Outside, the home was designed to fit in with the scale and aesthetics of the neighborhood, while maximizing square footage on a prominent but narrow corner lot. Cut-cedar siding offers a look familiar to the neighborhood while carrying a low carbon footprint. Generous windows maximize passive solar potential.

Inside, the home boasts a laundry list of energy-saving features. A triple-thick blanket of insulation achieves dramatic “R” values, while an advanced air barrier wrap further reduces heat loss. A low-energy HVAC system and energy-recovery ventilator supplies fresh air without energy waste, while the plumbing includes an insulated hot-water recirculation system for more efficiency still.

The home meets the rigorous standards of the LEED Platinum, Net Zero and Passive House certification programs – a trifecta for sustainable construction.

Net Zero, for instance, requires that all heating, cooling and electrical needs must be met through energy-conserving design features and onsite renewable sources.

That’s where solar comes in. The East Lawrence home features a 6kW rooftop system powered by 20 Trina modules and 10 APsystems YC500 dual-module microinverters.

Studio 804 students approached APsystems for help with the project, and the Seattle-based solar technology company offered the microinverter units as a donation.

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“These students are really leading the way forward for energy-efficient design and construction,” said Thomas Nelson, APsystems vice president for sales, USA. “As a leader in innovative solar technology, we were glad to sign on to the project and be included in this showcase home.”

Pickman said microinverters represent “a huge innovation” in the solar field, helping students meet their project goals even without real experience as solar installers.

“I have to say that those microinverters were very simple to install, very simple to work with and very simple to use,” Pickman said. “We had more trouble getting the panels up onto the roof than we ever did working with the micro inverters.”

Bigger, more ambitious projects

KU’s Studio 804 program is committed to the research and development of sustainable, affordable, and inventive building solutions, from the standards of human comfort to the nature of urban spaces.

Two education tracks are offered: a three-year Master of Architecture program for students who already hold undergraduate degrees, or a five-year program that melds both undergraduate and graduate studies and also culminates in the master’s degree.

The final year is a rigorous practicum in which students tackle all aspects of design and construction: from site selection to negotiating building and zoning codes, to working with neighborhood associations and project engineers, to pouring concrete and pounding nails.

“A lot of our projects are speculative, so we are also in charge of making sure the project gets sold,” Pickman said.

To date the studio has completed seven LEED Platinum buildings and two with Passive House certification, meeting the most rigorous environmental standards for materials and construction.

Solar has become a regular feature of Studio 804 work, Pickman said, because it is one of the most effective means of achieving onsite energy production in the Midwest.

“Solar is relatively simple and it functions relatively well with different housing configurations,” he said. “And every year the technology gets better, so every year, we can demonstrate that technology as well.”

Studio 804 produces one building per year, and they keep getting more ambitious.

Twenty years ago, the first Studio 804 project put a simple metal roof over a historic farmhouse. Two years ago, students designed and built a lecture hall and auditorium addition to Marvin Hall, a treasured, 1908-vintage engineering building on the University of Kansas campus.

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Pickman said their next challenge may be achieving the WELL Building standard, which considers interior design and the ergonomics of the living spaces and fixtures – anything that will “reduce wear and tear on the human body.”

“Every year we set slightly different goals,” Pickman said, from building scale to advanced materials and construction and renewable energy techniques.

“And great architecture, or at least very good architecture,” he added. “There’s not a lot of it Kansas.”

East Lawrence Passive House
East Lawrence, Kansas, USA
Designer/installer: Studio 804, graduate students in the University of Kansas Department of Architecture, Design and Planning
System output: 6kW
No. of modules: 20
Module type: Trina TSM-290
Microinverters: APsystems YC500 dual-module
No. of microinverters: 10
croinverters: 10

Upcoming Solar Events

Green Expo 2015
Mexico City, Mexico
September 23-25
Booth #820
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All Energy 2015
Mebourne, Australia
October 7-8
Booth #1704

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Solar Energy UK 2015
Brimingham, UK
October 13-15
Booth #C30
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Pioneering residential PV system shows high performance in Beijing

Two years after it became one of Beijing’s first residential PV projects, an APsystems microinverter installation is showing high performance and great returns for its owner.

Mr. Li, a resident of Beijing’s Haidian district, became a pioneer among China’s residential solar investors, adding a PV system to his home and then applying to connect to the national grid.

The flat roof-mounted array used 42 APsystems true 3-phase microinverters to achieve 10.5kW capacity.

install1Mr. Li was surprised by the system’s output.

Power generation over the first half of 2015 was more than 7,947 kilowatt hours. Over the year, output is expected to reach 16,000 kW/h, or 1.52 kW/h per watt — excellent production for Beijing, where some have doubted solar’s potential because of the city’s poor air quality and haze.

Mr. Li’s residential project resolves those concerns and demonstrates the viability of home PV systems in one of the world’s most populous cities.

“I am very satisfied with the performance of the whole system,” Mr. Li says.

Beijing city officials support solar development and offer regional subsidies for PV investors for five years.

install2Mr. Li is glad he chose APsystems microinverters for the installation, to optimize system output through module-level harvest and monitoring, and a lower startup voltage than offered by conventional “string” inverters.

APsystems microinverters work from sunup to sundown to produce more power throughout the day, and even on rainy days. Mr. Li tracks his array performance through the APsystems Energy Monitoring & Analysis system.

Mr. Li is now planning to buy an electric automobile, a powerful combination with his home PV system as he continues his renewable energy journey. He is among China’s solar pioneers, far-sighted citizens who seek out alternative energy innovations and solutions.

install3 copyRenewable energy will be increasingly popular in the future, with the support of the Chinese government and public. APsytems advanced microinverter technology will be there to help new solar investors get the most out of their home PV systems.

APS YC1000 offers unprecedented features

YC1000-closeup-webThe challenge: How to bring the advantages of microinverters to a commercial solar environment and be cost competitive in that market.

The solution took more than three years of research and development, but now it’s here: the YC1000 microinverter from APS .

The native 3-phase, 277/480 unit brings microinverters finally into the realm of large-scale commercial installations, with a groundbreaking approach to the technical challenges of these most demanding environments.

Simplicity of design: The YC1000 requires no extra equipment like transformers or optimizers, and no extra wiring. All needs are resolved within the unit’s native design.

Unprecedented cable management: The YC1000 revolutionizes trunk cabling with a new and innovative approach. There’s no need to branch cables or deal with the “landscape vs. portrait” complexity of a standard trunk cable system. These issues are solved by shifting the solution to the trunk cable itself.

Increased flexibility to add modules: The YC100 supports 4:1 and a 3:1 module-to-inverter ratios, so modules can be easily added for customized or space-limited projects.

Optimized monitoring and control: The YC1000 allows monitoring of individual modules, reducing shading issues and allowing more precise control of the whole PV array.

 Dr. Yuhao Luo, co-founder, vice president and chief technology officer for APS , began working toward these solutions in Silicon Valley based on his experience with PV systems in one of the world’s fastest-growing solar markets.

“Four years ago, there was no residential PV market in China,” he says. “All projects were 3-phase. We used a single-phase microinverter for those projects, but clearly a 3-phase microinverter would make those projects much easier in both design and installation.”

The YC1000 spent three years in design and development before rollout, and has been successfully deployed in installations in Australia, China and Africa.

It is now shipping to distributors across the US market.

Add up the technical breakthroughs – simplicity of design, revolutionized trunk cabling, outstanding flexibility, and optimized monitoring and control – and the YC1000 microinverter from APS represents distinct advantages and cost savings over every other microinverter solution on the market.

“This really is a gamechanger for commercial solar,” says Michael Ludgate, vice president for sales for APS  America. “We’ve shifted the paradigm again.”

See the groundbreaking YC1000 at SPI Las Vegas, Oct. 20-23. Visit the APS  booth #3124, or email us to discuss specific installation and distribution opportunities.