Leveraging New Inventory and Technology to Offer Renewable Power at Lower Cost
Sol-Ark, based in Plano, Texas, provides solar power energy and solar engineering services. It specializes in hybrid energy storage system (ESS) inverters that provide overall efficiency and the highest level of power. The company also offers its clients a choice of solar battery companies and battery chemistries to combine with its best-in-class hybrid inverters.
Sol-Ark’s solar engineering team is touted by Chief Executive Officer Tom Brennan as offering the top customer support and satisfaction rates in the solar industry. The company listens to its customers and continuously improves its software and products as well as its support and knowledge base. “We innovate faster than our competitors,” Brennan describes. “We are the standard that everyone gets compared to.”
Last year, Sol-Ark sported a single hybrid family of products. Today, it is introducing five hybrid families, including a varied line of hybrid inverters, micro-inverters, and load management software—the most powerful in the industry, according to Brennan. Of the new hybrid families, some are focused specifically on the Latin American market, a population that is very invested in low-cost solar solutions and three-phase power. For example, one of the products for the area is focused on being a whole-home backup solution for residential power, while another is focused on light commercial buildings like pharmacies or fast-food restaurants, an aspect of the solar power industry that Brennan feels has been greatly under-served.
Sol-Ark has also installed hundreds of kilowatts worth of solar power at its facility, including on a nearly one-hundred-square-foot building, as well as a massive array of solar panels. It has done this for two reasons: to reduce electricity use and overall dependence on the electric grid and to use the same items for testing, characterization, and development, simultaneously but in different ways. The company stands firmly by its solutions and has the inventory and results to back it up.
Brennan observes that, in 2022, customers in the solar industry continue to want bigger and better ESS systems to run more appliances and charge cars. Homes are energy-intensive, and more recently, home builders have been installing fewer natural gas systems in favor of purely electric-powered as these homes are easier and cheaper to build and install. To meet this demand, the hybrid ESS kilowatt size is growing. However, when the size of the inverter grows, so too does the size of the battery, and this can have a heavier cost.
Customers considering solar power are not only concerned with dollars and cents. Most homeowners who are thinking of going purely electric want to know if they can unplug from the grid, and if the grid goes down, can run everything they want to in their house. The answer to both currently is no, due to the expense of hybrid ESS systems, but Sol-Ark is changing that through AC-coupling in smaller hybrid and battery systems with AC-coupled micro inverters.
This will allow powering electric appliances during the day, as well as allowing for per-panel optimization and monitoring, rapid shutdown to quickly de-power solar panels for safety. It will also provide power during the day at one-sixth the cost of an ESS system. The price of an extra few thousand dollars to back up every piece of hardware might be, in retrospect, more ideal given how less resilient the grid is becoming.
Thanks to load management, Sol-Ark can also double the power of the ESS systems for both day and night at one-tenth the normal cost. Overall, Sol-Ark can triple the size of an ESS system while saving tens of thousands of dollars.
The biggest challenge in the market right now, according to Brennan, is the matter of backing up power, since what customers want is either too expensive or simply unobtainable. Sol-Ark is doing what it can to bring the cost of the hardware down by half, which has led to the development of larger inverters that offer twice as much power.
Brennan remembers how the company used to piece together batteries and other products from different companies in its earlier days, and installers might go to a single-provider solution such as Generac or Tesla or pick a solution with multiple vendors. Typically, installers want easy, single-provider solutions, which is why Sol-Ark provides customer support and an array of products. With these, it can provide a complete solution and support it from engineering to warranty.
Solar power has revolutionized the energy industry, but Brennan feels that there is currently not much innovation in the sector, with many businesses offering more of the same solutions. There also seems to be an increase in Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) use, meaning that some solar power companies are putting big brand names on equipment that is either not directly owned by them or coming from overseas.
However, there is a bit more innovation occurring in load management and especially in batteries, as the latter is seeing many newer technologies. Lithium ferrophosphate (LFP) batteries were once the standard for solar power use and are still regularly used but recently, rechargeable flow batteries are being relied upon as they can last for up to thirty years compared to the ten-to fifteen-year lifespan of LFPs. The solar industry was based on innovation, and that is still alive and well if one knows where to look.
In 2022, Sol-Ark will debut its eight products including hybrids, microinverters, and its new load management solution. The expansion across Latin America continues, as the company has hired around twenty-five bilingual solar engineers in just the past quarter. Development into optimizers and rapid shutdown technology is ongoing.
In 2023, Sol-Ark intends to move into a building at least three times as large as its present roughly 300,000-square-foot space to better house its engineers and products, with plans for more expansion in the future.
“It pays for itself over time. It’s one of the best investments you can make. It keeps your power going when there is no grid,” Brennan says of the state of solar power and its value today. “While a lot of things depreciate in value over time, solar power is known to increase in revenue. I think it’s a no-brainer.” As renewable energy becomes more desirable year after year, companies like Sol-Ark lead the way to a more sustainable future.