Fraunhofer gets SunShot award to research plug’n play solar

Residential Solar Installation

Plug and Play solar power may be the last stepping stone to make solar palatable to DIY homeowners searching for a weekend project. That’s why the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) is researching how to make photovoltaic (PV) systems ready for Harry homeowner to slap up on the roof, almost as easy as stringing up the holiday lights.

The Boston-based center recently received an $11.7 million, 5-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SunShot Initiative to develop of plug and play solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The award is part of a larger $21 million SunShot initiative aimed at developing technologies that reduce the so-called soft costs, or non-module-related costs—of residential solar PV systems.

“The Plug and Play program will investigate a variety of power conversion architectures to meet the Plug and Play program objectives, with safety, reliability, cost and performance in mind,” said Fraunhofer CSE Scientific Director Christian Hoepfner.

The program will also seek to establish standards for such products and systems. However, Hoepfner said it is too early to tell whether the research will seek to produce new connections or work with those developed by companies like Enphase or SMA, which have already introduced microinverters with plug and play style simplicity.

Since microinverters are connected on a per-panel basis, they offer some advantages over other array systems in terms of safety. For instance, since they’re connected on each module and convert DC power to AC at each module, they’re safer to connect and disconnect.

“One of the major project objectives is to create PV systems which are inherently safe,” Hoepfner said. So they might be one option the research center may look to to create safer PV arrays for homeowners. “The project aims to achieve a good balance between safety, ease of installation, installation time, and cost. A variety of options with regards to skilled and unskilled labor will be investigated,” he said.

The organization’s plug and play PV research will also leverage efforts by Boston and Massachusetts to accelerate the deployment of rooftop PV through the Solarize Massachusetts program. That’s a joint venture between Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources' Green Communities Division.

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