AC Solar Modules: From Market Domination to Decline and Potential Revival by 2024 – BNN Breaking

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Once heralded as the future of residential solar, AC modules – smart solar panels with pre-attached microinverters – have seen a dramatic decline in availability. Despite their initial popularity, marked by their presence in nearly every manufacturer’s booth in mid-2010s tradeshows, the landscape has drastically changed. By the mid-2020s, these modules have become a rarity in the United States, following the exit of key suppliers Panasonic and LG from AC module production. This shift raises questions about the future of ‘smart’ solar panels, even as some industry players hint at a potential revival.

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A Decade of Change

Panasonic and LG’s discontinuation of AC modules marked a significant turning point. Panasonic’s shift to larger panel sizes in 2021 and LG’s complete exit from solar panel manufacturing in 2022 effectively ended the AC module era in the U.S. market. David Lopez of Panasonic cited the lack of a one-size-fits-all solution and installation flexibility as reasons for the discontinuation, despite the initial appeal of AC modules for their streamlined installation and comprehensive warranties. The industry’s pivot away from AC modules has not dampened the overall enthusiasm for microinverters, with Enphase continuing to dominate the U.S. microinverter market.

Installer Perspectives and Market Adaptations

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Installation companies like Iowa-based ECG Solar have adapted their practices in response to the decline of AC modules. Jason Gideon, president of ECG, noted the challenges posed by warranty claims and the preference for easier access to microinverters during maintenance. Despite these shifts, the allure of reduced installation time with AC modules remains for some. Enphase emphasizes the business decision aspect, noting that while AC modules offer installation efficiencies, flexibility in panel and microinverter combinations has become a priority for many installers.

Looking Ahead: A Possible Revival

Despite the current scarcity of AC modules in the U.S., there are signs of potential resurgence. Qcells’ announcement of its AC SMART System availability in North America by late 2024, along with Enphase’s ongoing partnerships for AC module integration, suggest a possible revival. Additionally, companies like Northern Electric Power (NEP) and startup Solvari are exploring AC module designs, indicating that interest in this technology persists. The coming years may well see a transformative period for AC modules, challenging the notion that this solar solution is destined for retirement.

The fluctuating fortunes of AC modules reflect broader trends in solar technology and market demands. While the immediate future of these ‘smart’ solar panels remains uncertain, the industry’s innovative spirit suggests that adaptations and advancements could spark renewed interest. As the solar landscape continues to evolve, AC modules may yet find their place in the sun once more, embodying the dynamic interplay between technological innovation and market viability.

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