Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra where Arnold McKinley is talking about electronics and software he helped developed in California at Xslent Energy Technologies (XET), to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic panels. This involved Reactive Power Generation with Micro-inverters and Browser Based Energy Monitoring of Renewable Systems.
As Arni pointed out there have been few and minor improvements solar panel output. To become an affordable and major source of energy, improvements will need to be looked for elsewhere. Micro-inverters have advantages by allowing simpler and more efficient connection of multiple solar panels.
However, micro-inverters have previously not been able to produce the quality reactive power required by the grid. Products such as, the XET Apparent MicroInverter, can do this. He argued that not only would this produce reactive power, which is valuable for conventional power grids, but could also be used to provide power locally for appliances, such as plasma TVs, in homes.
Professor Bin Juine Huang from National Taiwan University mentioned the use of a super-capacitor in parallel with a lead acid battery to improve its performance when charged from a solar panel, in a previous seminar. It was not clear to me if this was the same effect.
Arni also argues detailed and verifiable third party energy monitoring takes the uncertainty out of renewable credits and so makes this more attractive to utilities and solar providers. He gives the example of the Apparent REView system, which interfaces to their Micro-inverter. This gives a web based interface to monitor local power generation. Rather than rely on the utility company to tell you how much power you are producing you can get your own readings. The same technique can be sued with conventional panel arrays with a central inverter, but with micro inverters, problems with individual solar panels can be identified.
Perhaps such monitoring systems would be of value for cluster housing, such as body corporate for apartment buildings in Australia, such as City Edge Apartments and Nishi Apartments, Canberra. The City Edge apartment building has a central solar boosted gas hot water system. Each apartment has an electronic hot water meter which is read by a remote billing system. This system is very efficient, however, because the billing is done by a utility, which changes a high minimum monthly fee, few of the benefits of the system flow to the households. The City Edge system uses standard data loggers, so it would be reasonably simple to interface to these. Interfacing to smart meters might be more complex. Under such a system, the body corporate would generate power, buy any extra power needed from utilities and sell excess power.