SPI 2019: Top solar trends at America's biggest solar event



This year’s Solar Power International (SPI) conference, which is a part of ‘Smart Energy Week’, was held in picturesque Salt Lake City, Utah. Easily the most important week for the North American solar energy industry, this year’s event was bigger and better than ever before.

Solar Power International printed on a picturesque image of Salt Lake City.
Solar Power International 2019 being held amidst the breathtaking views in Salt Lake City. Image source: visitsaltlake.com

Here is a quick recap of the event, as well as a sneak peek into the new machine learning software that Solar-Estimate.org previewed at SPI.

The top new trends at Smart Energy Week

Spanning 515,000 square feet, the Salt Lake City Convention Center showcased a staggering 713 exhibitors at SPI 2019. From solar installation tools to energy management software, it was a solar energy extravaganza.

Here are some of the top trends that emerged during this year’s Smart Energy Week.

Everyone is jumping on the battery bandwagon

The energy storage market in America has seen an exponential rise in the past few years. While the utility storage market has been growing by an impressive 11.3% year after year, it was the residential energy storage division that skyrocketed to a 500% growth in the year 2018. So, it was no surprise that batteries were everywhere at SPI 2019.

Here are a few battery solutions that stood out:

  • Panasonic EverVolt: Panasonic unveiled its new residential energy storage system, along with a slew of other products. EverVolt is a battery pack that can be coupled with AC or DC. It can easily be installed by a single person, and it’s also simple to add extra batteries to it if you need to.

  • SunPower Equinox Storage: This lithium iron phosphate (LFP) storage system is SunPower’s attempt at offering more in-house products for its installer network. With the Equinox model, SunPower now offers a fully integrated storage system that is both designed and warrantied by one company. The battery has a rated energy capacity of 13 kWh and is part of its residential solar offerings.

  • Generac PWRcell: Traditionally known for its generator business, Generac has decided to enter the energy storage market with its PWRcell battery. The PWRcell comes with an expandable battery pack, inverter, and advanced sensors.

    “The flexibility of modular battery packs, combined with the most power available makes this system best-in-class technology,” said Russ Minick, Chief Marketing Officer and leader of the Clean Energy business for Generac.
  • Goal Zero’s Yeti Home Energy System: This innovative battery product can serve as both home storage and a portable battery system. What makes the Yeti 3kWh lithium battery system unique is that you can expand its system size by adding batteries of any chemistry.

New and improved solar panels

What is the one thing you expect to see at a Solar Power International event? Well, solar panels! And solar panels we did see — lots of them. With all the big solar brands showcasing their shiny new PV modules (and some prototype modules added to the mix), it was an exciting display of what the solar industry has in store.

Here are the solar panels that got us most excited at SPI:

  • Vikram Solar’s Somera Grand Ultima Max: These powerful half-cell modules have an output range from 405 to 425 W and a 27-year power warranty. The company is aiming big and wants to have a 1 GW presence in the United States by 2022. The Country Managing Director of Vikram Solar Americas, Jay Sharma, had this to say about the Somera solar panels:

    “The flexibility of The SOMERA Grand half-cell modules generate only half the current of standard cells, which lowers heat generation and increases reliability and production. Yet the manufacturing process for the half-cells adds little to the cost, making the SOMERA Grand Ultima Max an excellent choice for applications requiring maximum output at a cost-competitive price point."
  • LG Neon R ACe: This LG module streamlines processes by including a microinverter, gateway, and cabling all under one brand and a single 25-year warranty. This module also includes an app-based monitoring service system called EnerVu that will alert LG customer service to help address technical issues remotely.

  • Q Cells Peak Duo: Q Cell introduced two prototypes of their first-ever gapless solar modules. In these modules, half cells are positioned right next to each other with no white space in between. The panel has an output of 315-330 W with 19.9% efficiency.

  • Canadian Solar BiHiKu: This module combines three industry-leading solar technologies in one 400 W module. It sports the latest black silicon, a poly PERC solar cell, and has bifacial cell technology. This bifacial solar module produces 30% additional power from the backside, thereby drastically increasing its total output. Bifacial solar panels were trending this year at SPI and these Canadian panels were one of the more impressive bifacial panels on display.

  • REC’s Alpha Series: Another noteworthy exhibit at SPI 2019 was REC’s Alpha Series, the most powerful 60-cell solar panel in the world. This module can reach 380 W at 21.7% efficiency; that's 20% more power than the traditional 60-cell modules. It is also backed by a 25-year product and performance warranty.

The machine learning solar panel layout tool that is slated to be a game-changer

wo men standing in front of a screen with the machine learning solar panel layout tool on the screen.

SolarReviews founder Andrew Sendy demonstrating the machine learning solar panel layout tool.

The SolarReviews/Solar-Estimate.org team at SPI 2019 showcased a brand new solar design tool for residential solar customers. The tool uses machine learning in order to:

  • Accurately map out a customer's roof;
  • Identify obstructions;
  • Calculate the appropriate amount of solar panels needed;
  • Perform a shade analysis of the roof; and
  • Calculate how much energy will be produced based on the location and the direction of the roof.

Designing solar systems for homes has traditionally been a very labor-intensive process for a number of reasons. Each home has a unique roof, a different electricity usage pattern, a specific climate and varying local policies and rebates. The new machine learning tool will make this process both easy and accessible to residential customers.

The tool is due to launch on the SolarReviews.com and Solar-Estimate.org websites in November 2019.

If you are someone looking to install solar panels, you can get live quotes from the best solar installers in your area in real-time simply by using our calculator. We will also be sure to let you know when our machine learning tool goes live.

See live solar prices from top-rated solar companies in your area

Exhibits that caught our attention

While there were hundreds of smart, new products and events at the exhibition, here are a few that caught our attention.

Radiant solar panel cleaning robot

Amongst the clammer of the exhibition, this white shiny robot quietly went about doing its thing - cleaning solar panels. Gliding over the panels and turning perfectly as it approached the edges, it resembled the Roomba (but - of solar panels).

A Radiant solar panel cleaning robot on top of a solar panel.

The Radiant solar panel cleaning robot quietly working on a solar panel at SPI 2019. Image source: PV-magazine-usa.com 

Brooklyn solar canopy

The most innovative design is often the simplest - and the way in which the Brooklyn Solar Canopy’s simple booth design caught everyone's attention is a testament to that statement. The shiny black Tesla Model S parked underneath made it that much more eye-catching.

SPI recognized the design by giving the New York City-based company the ‘Booth Design Winner’ award.

The Brooklyn solar canopy booth at SPI 2019. The recipient of the ‘Booth Design Winner’ award

The Brooklyn solar canopy booth at SPI 2019, the recipient of the ‘Booth Design Winner’ award. Image source: brooklynsolarcanopy.com

Terra Smart's table tennis tournament

The solar industry in America is all about making advancements in renewable technology. It's about helping the world fight climate change, it's about making clean energy accessible to everyone in the country - and it is also about playing table tennis.

Terra Smart’s booth had three tennis tables buzzing with players of all skill levels. Needless to say, daily tournaments were held and champions were born.

A crowd surrounds three table tennis tables in the Terra Smart booth at SPI2019.

Table tennis tournament at SPI 2019 in full swing.

And the Cleanie Award goes to...

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an awards ceremony that recognizes the year's achievements in the clean technology industry?

The Cleanie Awards, an annual awards ceremony held during Smart Energy Week, do just that.

Some stand-out winners this year included:

  • The Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Janice Lin for founding the company Strategen. She also co-founded the Global Energy Storage Alliance and the California Energy Storage Alliance.
  • The Public Affairs Campaign of the Year Award to Calvert Street Group and sPower. The Cleanie Awards recognized their successful campaign to get a 500 megawatt, 6,350-acre solar farm approved in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, making it the 13th largest solar farm in the world.
  • The Product of the Year Award to Greentek Energy Systems, for developing their Apollo series LED solar street light.

The awards add real value by recognizing some of the best work being done in the industry. The full list of honorees can be found here.

Cleanie awards/twitter Alt text: The winners of Cleanie awards 2019 posing for a photograph.

The winners of The Cleanie Awards 2019. Image source: The Cleanie Awards Twitter

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 - Author of Solar Reviews

Aditya Gautam

SolarReviews Blog Author

Aditya is a best-selling author, journalist, and scriptwriter. He also has several years of customer service experience in the energy sector. He is an ardent believer in the transformative power of solar energy and loves digging for new solar stories and trends. He is convinced that harnessing solar energy will soon be the norm around the world.

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