2011 Winner: Outstanding Achievement In Environmental Technology And Innovation
Company’s solar technology makes alternative resource attractive to mainstream
When Brent Harris wanted a job in the solar power industry, he quickly realized that no one was hiring and he’d have to start his own company to fulfill his dream. In 1998 the opportunity arrived and Mr. Harris left his job in oil and gas instrumentation to help start Sustainable Energy Technologies Inc. (SET).
Over the past decade, SET’s technologies and products have been used in a variety of alternative energy applications, and are now proving that solar electricity in rooftop and building integrated applications can be cost competitive with electricity from the power grid.
“Solar power has always been a very interesting energy alternative to non-renewable resources,” Mr. Harris explains. “But there have been price challenges. In the last few years the cost of the technology has dropped substantially and now we are bringing solar to the mainstream as a viable and attractive renewable energy source.” He stresses that SET’s SUNERGY grid-tie photovoltaic (PV) inverter technology is not a specialty product. He calls it “an appliance”.
“We can install it on a rooftop with an air conditioning system, so that solar energy becomes part of the building’s system and more attractive to the mainstream,” he explains.
The beauty of SET’s innovation is that each cell works independently of each other in what is known as a “massively parallel” system. SUNERGY inverters push the boundaries of what is known in the solar industry by removing the barriers created through traditional system design. This translates into less costly system designs and fewer system limitations. As well, increased safety through decreased voltages means systems can be installed in locations otherwise thought too dangerous for PV. Further, the modularity of a parallel system design affords the ability to scale-up system size as funding becomes available.
SUNERGY inverters can operate in the extreme climates found anywhere in the world, unlike conventional solar inverter technologies.
“Solar PV’s ability to act as an efficient source of clean renewable energy without huge overhead, land requirements and constant maintenance found with other renewable energy technologies, is quickly making solar PV the renewable energy of choice,” Mr. Harris explains.
SET has installed systems in Europe, where electricity prices are far higher than in Alberta. And because of green incentive programs and legislation in Ontario, SET has taken its manufacturing capacity to that province and is doing a brisk business there. The company is also beginning to sell its product into the U.S. market.
“As jurisdictions become interested in cutting energy costs, the demand for solar PV will continue to increase,” Mr. Harris says. “Installers are looking for easy, affordable, simple systems whose components are perfectly matched with each other and have high performance under a variety of conditions.”
SET is working with researchers at the University of Alberta to advance the technology and allow SET to manufacture the SUNERGY inverter at lower cost at a lower weight, without compromising on efficiency or performance. Mr. Harris says the innovation culture in the province provides the company with a welcoming environment to test its new products. But because of low energy costs, business is slow in the province. Until that changes, SET is focusing on bringing solar power to the mainstream in other parts of the world.