Solar panels suffer from being an imperfect tech, and differences between the quality of each individual cell can even affect how efficiently the whole thing works. Enter National Semiconductor, with smart solar optimizer chips.
The electronics in National Semi’s “SolarMagic” chips are the “solar industry’s first” in-panel solution to optimizing the electrical light-to-power efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels, according to the press release, and NS is going as far as saying this means there’s a whole new class of solar panel now: Smart panels.
SolarMagic’s designed to circumvent the inefficiencies caused by “age, mismatch and shade” between the different photovoltaic cells that comprise a complete solar panel. Since each cell is typically a random arrangement of large semiconducting crystals, these “underperforming” characteristics are actually part of the production process, and they mean that when you bunch cells together in an array, then each unit produces slightly different electrical current, and that upsets the overall performance of the array. SolarMagic adjusts the current and voltage coming from each cell in an array in a dynamic way that improves the efficiency of the array as a whole. It also includes lots of safety protection systems such as fire cut-offs. The board fits into a typical solar cell junction box, which is the one selling point of the SolarMagic system–it doesn’t need another complex bit of electronics to make a solar array work.
The other big selling point is how well it seems to work, as a report in CNET notes, SunEdison retrofitted it into one of its photovoltaic arrays and observed efficiency boosts of up to 20%–a massive figure, that really improves PV’s standing as an alternative electrical power-generating system.