Solar technology to take quantum leap with latest Enphase product unveiling

I have been to a lot of product launches over the last twenty years.

A very small number were truly game changers that left me reeling, but this week I was lucky enough to hear about one that totally fits the game changer description.

US based micro inverter manufacturer Enphase have announced a new suite of products and services which together, take us another step towards really revolutionising distributed generation; they call it the Enphase Energy Management System.

US based Enphase Energy has once again shown us what tech-leadership looks like, pushing solar technology into new territory with the announcement of three game changing new products at SPI, Las Vegas. Together, these product innovations are set to change the way solar is generated, stored and managed around the world. The Enphase Energy Management System intelligently integrates the critical technologies needed to solve solar energy challenges at scale: smart grid intelligence, communications, big data analytics and storage. The Energy Management System offers Enphase’s Fifth-Generation, smart-grid ready Enphase microinverter, plug-and-play storage, advanced control capabilities and load management.

In a nutshell, Enphase has announced that they are extending their product and service offering into a “scalable distributed networked architecture”. Using their products, the aim is to enhance ROI (optimised micro generation), simple design and installation (plug and play), decrease O&M costs (big data), increase reliability (via redundancy), improve safety (lower voltage) and to provide utility solutions (control and data). Big call – but their new system has all these elements.

First cab off the rank is a tremendously exciting AC Battery.

Enphase has applied the same winning formula that has earned it dominance in the micro inverter space; make it small, make it modular and make it flexible. Fittingly, their AC battery is based on a 1.2kWh capacity hi end Lithium Ion Phosphate battery but of course, the Battery Management System and inverter are totally integrated. Plug and Play AC storage.

Whilst 1.2kWh might seem small at first, this offers immense flexibility. Want to start small and just shave your peak demand? No problem, just install a small, single integrated unit. Want to expand as time passes? No problem; just add more packs together and parallel them together. Want a rack mount commercial solution, that’s easy to swap out or update over time? Got it Covered.

The mind boggles at where this can go in time too; off grid systems, camper vans and pretty much anywhere else you want power (I’ve already asked whether I can get one to fit in my Zero electric bike so it’s a rolling power station).

Logically, the crucial advantages of redundancy and highly granular data collection that are achieved through micro inverters apply equally to the AC Battery too.  The more I thought about this, the cooler the idea seemed – individual AC solar panels working synchronously with individual AC Batteries such that they all are operating at their individual optimum. Naturally, the Enphase data logging and management systems (Enlighten and Envoy) work with the AC Battery and the recently launched Installer Toolkit App makes commissioning fast and simple.

As I was listening to the briefing, I thought it would be awesome if there was the ability to control the energy from the solar and battery in a more sophisticated way.

And they blew me away again; announcing their Gen 5 S-Series Microinverter.

Forget everything you know about inverters, or micro inverters for that matter. This little puppy is more powerful, more efficient and more reliable but the big story is the new smarts. In a world-first, the Gen 5 product has become a smart-grid-ready, bi-directional control system. It allows dynamic power control including Volt/Var, Ride through, Frequency/Watts and bi-directional flow features; essential tool for utilities in many markets – like Australia. It allows simple and global software updates so it’s future proof. And in concert with Enlighten and Envoy it allows load control in the home.

As their Press Release so eloquently describes “The Enphase system intelligently integrates the critical technologies needed to solve solar energy challenges at scale: smart grid intelligence, communications, big data analytics and storage. The energy management system offers the next-generation, smart-grid ready Enphase micro inverter, plug-and-play storage, advanced control capabilities and load management.”

The more I listen to what Enphase are doing the more I start to realise I have to stop thinking about them as a product company. Founder Raghu Belur comes from a data background and it shows; this company is like a Google or Apple in the renewable energy space. Belur explained that their core platform, the driver behind everything they do, is data and it shows because Enphase Enlighten processes more than 600GB of data each day – more data than Twitter.

This flips thinking on its head. Being so data focused they see problems and solutions differently.

Solving utility challenges is about control, adaptability, billing and truly smart grids. Having such granular data and control on the generation side is mind blowing. In fact, it’s now clear that Enphase sees more data on what the grid is doing than the utilities in some parts of the world. Extending “the olive branch of control” to utilities is a clever manoeuvre and should logically help overcome the fear that has led to so many barriers. Enphase is one of the most valuable friends a progressive utility could have.

Equally, optimising energy output from solar panels is about data. Find the individual sweet spot, max it, get more yield and dynamically adjust it as the system changes over time. On batteries it’s the same issue; the ability to control individual BMS optimises cell life. Allowing individual batteries to be called upon in different ways, added to or subtracted as required. The core to making this all work well is data.

Paul Nahi, Enphase CEO described it like this, “Enphase is taking a fundamentally different approach to energy management. The solar industry is dominated by static, isolated systems that do not integrate, communicate, scale or adapt quickly to changes in power generation. Our energy management system is designed to accelerate mass penetration of solar globally and make mainstream access to clean, affordable energy a reality.”

Enphase outsources manufacturing to Flextronics (who manufacture for Apple) but has their own staff embedded, their own production lines and real time access to manufacturing data. Likewise for their AC Battery, Enphase has worked with ELIIY Power, a Japanese battery manufacturer backed by Daiwa House as the chemistry provider.

By the time I had finished listening to the launch briefing two things were clear to me. One is that if you can generate, store, monitor and control on a micro level, who wouldn’t want that? The second is that Enphase really are saying and doing things very differently. Many solar manufacturers claim to be industry leaders, but to me, this is what tech leadership is.

You can read the official Enphase Energy Press Release on the AC Battery here and the Energy Management System here. 

The Enphase Energy Management System, including the Enphase AC Battery, will be available in limited quantities through authorised distribution channels in 2016, or through their Australian beta partner, Metro Solar, in the second half of 2015.