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Electronics players vie to juice solar panels' output

Tigo Energy raises money from electronics manufacturer while chipmakers STMicroelectronics and National Semi expand with power electronics to maximize output of solar panels.

With the solar industry growing, electronics companies are developing specialized hardware to boost the power output from solar arrays.

Start-up Tigo Energy, which makes a device to optimize and monitor solar panels, on Wednesday said that it has raised $10 million from electronics manufacturer Inventec Appliances and others.

STMicroelectronics chip for optimizing power output of panels in a solar array. STMicroelectronics

Also on Wednesday, chip manufacturer STMicroelectronics introduced an integrated circuit designed to automatically adjust the power output of individual solar modules to improve the performance of an array of panels. The chip can compensate for variations in individual solar-panel output due to shading, heat, and solar intensity, according to the company.

National Semiconductor, too, has entered the solar-power electronics business with its SolarMagic chipset, which are integrated into junction boxes. This week, National Semiconductor said that it has signed on module maker Green Energy Solar and a handful of junction box makers to embed the power optimization system.

Tigo Energy's device fits onto a solar-panel rack to compensate for power variations in an array and to monitor performance. Tigo Energy

The performance of solar arrays, both rooftop residential systems and utility-scale arrays, can be affected significantly by obstructions, such as shading or dropped leaves. When panels are wired in series, a drop in one panel's output will affect others' performance.

To address that problem, a number of companies are developed gear, including microinverters which convert direct current to alternating current on a panel and power electronics to track the voltage of panels across an array.

Tigo Energy says that its device, called the Tigo Energy Maximizer, can improve the power generation of an array by 20 percent. In addition to electronics to boost power output, the system monitors the panel performance, which can be viewed via a Web application.

The company said that the investment from Inventec Appliances, which manufacturers electronics for consumers goods, will help it ramp up production.