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Oct 28, 2013  | Tom Cheyney  | 0 Comments

Solar Power International 2013 postscript, Part 2

Maxwell ultracapacitors smooth variability, Parker Hannifin enters central inverter race, SPI parties mix business and pleasure, larceny lurks on the solar show floor

CHICAGO–Two unmistakable industry/exhibitor trends continued to manifest at this year’s Solar Power International show: the growing number of companies offering energy storage solutions and the ultracompetitiveness of the inverter space, with several new or at least underpublicized players exhibiting their wares.

One fresh face in the storage space is a company well-known in other arenas, Maxwell Technologies, which believes its ultracapacitors offer a compelling alternative to traditional lead-acid and other battery solutions. The firm is just beginning to pair its products with solar, according to Chuck Cook and Wolfgang Beez, who pointed to two demonstration projects in San Diego announced earlier this year that feature Soitec concentrator PV arrays working in tandem with Maxwell storage systems. Like other storage schemes, the “ultracap”-based approach mitigates or “smooths” the variability and intermittency of the solar resource as well as providing backup power. Chuck and Wolfgang noted the quick response of Maxwell’s tech makes it well-suited for those >80% of solar voltage fluctuations that clock in at a minute or less.

Parker Hannifin fields process control, gas and fluid handling, electromechanical, and motion products in dozens of different industrial sectors, but the multibillion-dollar corporation has yet to make much of an impact in solar. That could change with the introduction of its powerful outdoor central inverter, the 890GT-S. Steve Schwartz let me kick the tires and peer under the hood of the utility-scale unit, which though compact compared to other large outdoor centrals, packs quite a power conversion wallop. The modularly designed, cleverly liquid-cooled 1000V-capable apparatus has all the smarts required of any new PV inverter—real and reactive power support, dynamic VAR injection, robust monitoring (100 temperature points) and control, low-voltage ride-through capability—and brings as much as 2MW of nameplate to the game. But one key feature may give this new central a leg up on the competition–it can also be combined with the company’s energy storage components. Steve told me that Parker has already installed 86MW of grid-tie storage systems that could be easily coupled with their inverter siblings, noting the two share many common platform features.

The mix of business and pleasure always adds to the tradeshow experience, and this edition of SPI had that combination in spades. The Curator could be found schmoozing and vortexing during the SPI Block Party at the mind-blowing Museum of Science and Industry, tipping a pint and busting a gut at the convivial Solar Tweetup at Kitty O’Shea’s, and staring in awe into the Shedd Aquarium’s Caribbean Reef tank during the Inovateus/Schneider invite-only affair celebrating the commissioning of a 265KW PV system on the facility’s roof. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must share a recurring kvetch about the refreshments at certain events: the choices of beer and wine were, to put it nicely, extremely limited. But a good party doesn’t always come cheap. One outspoken CEO who shall remain nameless told me he spent north of a hundred grand on his shindig this year. And it was worth every penny.

Although the general atmosphere was upbeat, I did hear about a troubling bit of police-blotter activity during SPI. No, it was not the usual “corporate espionage-lite” and employee poaching that takes place at every conference, but something more fundamental. An industry friend of mine said his backpack–replete with laptop, passport, heart medication, and other personal/business items–was stolen right out of his company’s booth. The thief had enough time to rummage through his bag, leaving some files scattered on the carpet. The possibility that a fellow SPI attendee might have been the culprit (or not) did put a damper on the otherwise positive experience at the show.


Sources: Maxwell Technologies, Parker Hannifin, Schneider Electric, Inovateus Solar, SolarCurator, anonymous sources

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