Module level electronics mean having an inverter or an optimizer on the backside of a solar module instead of the simpler junction box. The purpose of the optimizer/microinverter is to manage the output of a single module so that it doesn’t affect other modules. Enphase goes the direction of a true inverter on the back of a module – with AC electricity leaving. SolarEdge, with their optimizers, adjust the module output to keep the voltage constant. Both of these techniques minimize the affect of shadows, module mismatch or other effects limiting string level efficiency.
An article that I wrote on electrek today talks about AT&T linking up with SunPower to show off the Internet of Things when applied to an individual solar module. This concept potentially lines up well with what Enphase is doing in Hawaii. Being able to manage individual solar module output could be an amazing way to stabilize the grid. Overbuilding the grid by 10-30% with solar modules would allow us to turn on and off modules as needed without risking brownouts due to too little energy available. Its a topic that very much interests me as I read more and more about grid operators having to keep up with the intermittency of solar/wind power. Of course, distributed battery storage can solve these same issues – but a solar module can do it without needing to use up the limited cycles of a battery.
We’re still very early in the solar industry – innovation like this will help make it work better.