Queen’s-developed solar tech enters North American market

Efficiency boosting micro-inverter could be a “game changer” for residential installations.

Comments Off on Queen’s-developed solar tech enters North American market July 12, 2011
Mike McLeod

Kingston, ON – Who says Canadian R&D never makes it to market? At the Intersolar solar conference and trade show this month, a solar microinverter for photovoltaic systems developed at Queen’s University is creating a buzz. Commercialized by Kingston-based SPARQ Systems Inc, a start-up company borne of the university’s PARTEQ Innovations tech transfer office, the line of solar microinverters were recently awarded certification for use in North American markets by Underwriters Laboratories and the CSA.

“We are thrilled by this milestone,” says Dr. Praveen Jain, president and CEO of SPARQ. “With these certifications in hand we are now fully equipped to address the rapidly expanding North American markets.”

Seemingly a small thing, certification of the Canadian microinverter opens the door for the diminutive component to become a game changer in the residential solar market. The reason is that while the PV cells get the attention, inverters form the brains of a solar system, converting and condition the DC power generated by the cells before it can flow onto the AC grid.

Commonly, these inverters have been large and heavy junction boxes or a series of smaller inverters linked together. Whatever the approach, they suffer from relatively short life expectancy. A solar installation may require multiple inverter replacements before the panels’ end of life.

By contrast, SPARQ Systems’ inverters are small enough to be integrated directly on the panel itself, but more importantly, they don’t incorporate electrolytic capacitors, which increasing the lifespan of the microinverters to 25 years or more.

In addition, the company says the microinverter design produces more alternating current power from PV panels for longer periods under lower light and partial shading conditions, making them especially well-suited for urban installations.

The company is currently partnering with contract manufacturer Sanmina-SCI of San Jose, CA to produce microinverters and communications hubs for the consumer market. The solar inverters will be produced for the Canadian market at Sanmina-SCI’s Ottawa facility, which is certified for Ontario’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program, as well as at Sanmina-SCI’s worldwide regional facilities.

The company says it is actively pursuing certifications for sale of its products outside North America.