Article
There’s no question the U.S. solar industry is growing by leaps and 
bounds. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the
 nation’s solar capacity was 2 gigawatts (GW) in 2012 – by the end of 
2019, capacity topped 71 GW. Utility-scale solar arrays are a major 
market driver, with a record number of projects now under contract and 
waiting to be built.

Utility Solar Market Benefiting from Higher Voltage Arrays

Chuck Ross
There’s no question the U.S. solar industry is growing by leaps and bounds. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the nation’s solar capacity was 2 gigawatts (GW) in 2012 – by the end of 2019, capacity topped 71 GW. Utility-scale solar arrays are a major market driver, with a record number of projects now under contract and waiting to be built. As the market has matured, developers are seeking new ways to both reduce construction costs and improve operating efficiencies, and higher-voltage systems are playing a big role in these efforts.

Already strong, utility interest in new solar capacity is picking up, according to SEIA’s fourth-quarter 2019 figures. Solar costs are continuing to fall, and both state regulators and corporate customers are pushing to increase renewable energy resources. As of Dec. 31, 2019, solar projects with a estimated capacity of 10.4 GW were under construction. SEIA anticipates overall utility demand for solar-generated electricity to remain strong through 2024. In fact, the fourth-quarter 2019 report’s estimates for that period are 5 GW higher than previously announced.

The utility solar segment is seeing some of the most significant equipment price reductions in the industry. Year-over-year system pricing for these projects was down by more than 10%, according to SEIA. This is only partly due to less expensive solar panels – instead, much of the savings is coming from balance-of-system equipment savings. One of the factors helping to drive less expensive installed costs is a move toward 1500VDC wiring, from more traditional 1000VDC systems.

This step up in DC voltage is similar to a previous increase from 600 V, the voltage of original large-scale arrays. In both cases, higher voltages have led to broad, installed-system cost reductions. While higher voltage equipment is more expensive, developers need less of it for the same capacity output.

Of course, with higher voltages comes a need for greater protection. This is why a number of manufacturers have introduced new lines of fuses designed with higher voltages in mind. These devices are installed at all levels in a utility-scale project, including:

  • PV strings
  • Inline PV modules 
  • Inverters
  • Battery charge controllers
Photo courtesy of Mersen
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