PROJECT PROFILE: Sunfield Semiconductor (Incubator 10)

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Project Title: Magnetic Communication Network for Smart Photovoltaic Solar Power Modules
Funding Opportunity: SunShot Technology to Market (Incubator 10)
SunShot Subprogram: Technology to Market
Location: Calabasas, CA
Amount Awarded: $144,000
Awardee Cost Share:  $36,000
Project Investigator: Jacob Herbold

This project develops a new communication system for smart photovoltaic (PV) solar modules that will significantly lower the cost of module-level monitoring and shut-down. Communication between solar modules is via low frequency magnetic fields, which has significant advantages over conventional technologies like radio and power-line communication such as: extremely low cost; the ability to detect series arc faults; and the ability to isolate the arc fault to a specific solar module.

APPROACH

Development of the communication system will focus on two key deliverables that are critical parts of the overall system: a monolithic magnetic transceiver circuit and a new communication protocol.  These deliverables will be developed and tested using a three-step process: gathering empirical data on magnetic signal strengths as a function of array configuration; using the empirical data to simulate a large number of use cases, including corner-cases and arc fault events; and validating the simulations by demonstrating system operation on few selected use cases.

INNOVATION

Magnetic communication (mag com) is ideal for smart PV solar modules because of its low cost and ability to improve arc fault detection. For example, mag com doesn't suffer from multi-path reflections that are an issue for radio networks because magnetic fields don't propagate, and they penetrate PV cells rather than being reflected. Also, mag com can be implemented at a cost that is significantly less than either radio or power-line communications, which will lower the cost of module-level monitoring and shut-down. Furthermore, mag com provides a totally new method for detecting series arc faults in PV modules that is much simpler than conventional methods, and with significantly lower false alarm rates.