Enphase Energy to bring 'microinverters' to solar panels

Like the microcomputer--also known as the PC--shook up computing, microinverters will make solar more widespread, says start-up.

Is it time for a "small revolution" in the world of renewable energy electronics?

Start-up Enphase Energy on Tuesday announced that it has landed $6.5 million in funding with the bulk of the money coming from Third Point Ventures.

The company makes a system that uses a microinverter, an electronics device that converts direct current from solar panels to grid-ready alternating current on each individual panel.

Each panel can also relay information on its performance to Enphase Energy's Web site, which customers can view from a browser. The company plans to release the system, aimed at both businesses and consumers, in the second quarter of this year.

The result of the setup is a more productive and reliable solar installation, according to President and CEO Paul Nahi.

Typically, solar panels have a single inverter to convert DC to AC. A microinverter is more efficient, so each panel will harvest more energy, said Nahi. And having information on the performance of each individual panel will give the owner or manager of the array better information for troubleshooting problems, he said.

He declined to specify how much efficiency the microinverter design brings, but he said the move to microinverters is a "fundamental, basic" shift across the solar industry.

The idea of a solar panel that can generate alternating current has been around for a long time.

But there are a number of technical hurdles to microinverters, according to a presentation given by inverter maker Xantrex (click here for PDF). Those challenges include excessive heating, efficiency, and the ability to service inverters, according to Xantrex.

Featured Video

Why do so many of us still buy cars with off-road abilities?

Cities are full of cars like the Subaru XV that can drive off-road but will never see any challenging terrain. What drives us to buy cars with these abilities when we don't really need them most of the time?

by Drew Stearne