Tigo Energy monitors the power from the sun

Voted one of the world’s most promising clean tech companies, Israeli-US company Tigo Energy says its key contribution is its innovative technology for managing solar systems. Despite the cutting-edge science invested in solar energy, some aspects of the industry lag …

Voted one of the world’s most promising clean tech companies, Israeli-US company Tigo Energy says its key contribution is its innovative technology for managing solar systems.

Despite the cutting-edge science invested in solar energy, some aspects of the industry lag behind, explains Jeffrey Krisa, VP of marketing and sales for Tigo Energy. And that’s just where his company comes in.

Since 2007 it has raised $17 million, and Tigo Energy is now the leader in the US in its field and the first to be certified safe and effective for improving the efficiency and online monitoring of solar panel installations.

The company offers a technology and IT solution in one. Tigo can squeeze more power from current photovoltaic solar panels, and it also helps solar power plant owners to manage their assets more effectively, by providing them with real time information from the panels.

It was recently voted one of 100 most promising clean technology companies in the world by the Cleantech Forum, an international firm for promoting investment in clean technologies, and The Guardian newspaper in the UK. “We were pleasantly surprised,” Krisa tells ISRAEL21c. “They went to a lot of experts in the field, people who were well aware of upcoming technologies.”

Solar power photovoltaic (PV) cells have been “fairly stable for the better part of 10 years. When you look at large PV projects you’ve got a whole pile of panels, inverters and a meter telling you what’s coming out of the plant,” says Krisa.

However, more traditional power plants, such as coal-fired, natural gas, or nuclear plants have technology that provides “infinite data about what’s going on from the generation side with a lot of controls,” he adds, explaining that solar energy plants are “not on par with traditional [energy] in terms of control or monitoring.”

A faster return on solar investment

Tigo builds hardware and software intelligence into solar energy installations, making them – the company asserts – more efficient, manageable and safer. It also adds that it’s advanced balance of system products deliver lower cost of ownership and faster return on investment.

“One of the key things we bring is innovation around the ability to manage the system,” Krisa asserts, adding that this year Tigo has emerged from its R&D mode to start selling its “Maximizer” boxes and online controls on a trial basis. The company reached this stage after much research at trade shows, where it examined the current innovations around materials and energy efficiency in PV systems.

Krisa claims that with its small box connected to each solar PV panel, Tigo improves energy efficiency – the solar power harvested from the PV panels – by six to eight percent. These rates were measured on residential units, in a variety of shade conditions. Top efficiency rates peaked at 20% and this means a faster return on investment for the consumer or businesses.

“More importantly what we are doing really is revolutionizing the way the system is managed, operated and maintained,” stresses Krisa. He’s referring to the small piece of electronics that the company inserts at each of the panels. “We are able to instrument each one of the panels and provide through [it] a web interface, and an IT and technology solution,” he explains.

A granular data set, he adds, allows a project manager to check the status of the panels at all times. Even in a field of 5,000 panels, five-second interval checks can be made on each one.

Don’t blame the clouds

Practically speaking, maintenance staff can schedule servicing in response to outputs from the panel. “We can see if a certain corner is getting dirtier than another. From that we will be able to run an analysis to send a cost versus payback [report],” says Kriser. And naturally, data can be sent to a cell phone, remote computer or PDA.

With other systems, “… one can’t see down to the panel level. You can’t see the data real time,” Kriser explains. A site manager may see a drop in production, but he won’t understand the reason for it. It could be caused by clouds, less sun, a panel that needs servicing or dirty panels interfering with the output.

The Tigo system can also prevent vandalism. “It’s one of the features on our roadmap,” says Krisa. And because the Tigo system provides feedback from the panels day and night, it’s easy for the company to prevent theft in countries where it’s a problem, like in Italy, or in emerging markets.

Selling since March, rather than committing to 50 megawatts at once, large companies, whose names are confidential, are committing to 50 or 100 kilowatts to start. Tigo is currently installing their boxes at three to five sites a week, with each box costing $56 per unit.

Aligning with key players in the market such as Kaco Solar in Germany and AEE Solar, a prominent PV distributor in the US, Tigo announced its UL 1741 compliance this week, which means the company is now able to launch into full-scale sales. Tigo is the first company in this space to reach that milestone, says Krisa: “It shows our leadership and readiness.” By early next year Tigo’s products will be available worldwide.

Integration into solar panels

As part of its roll-out, Tigo not only provides the “Module Maximizer EP,” boxes that runs in parallel circuits, but is also offering a second version, the “Module Maximizer ES,” which runs in serial. The company also aims to have its core technology integrated directly into the PV panels of other manufacturers to reduce costs of materials and installation time.

Currently the Tigo Energy solution is a stand-alone polycarbon box that affixes to the frame of a PV panel. Integrating it into other companies’ existing technologies offers a number of advantages. “Put right into solar panels, it could vastly reduce the cost of a panel footprint. You can also enhance the performance of the panel itself,” says Krisa.

Founded by two native Israelis, Sam Arditi and Ron Hadar, the company was registered and funded in Silicon Valley in late 2007. With a base in Kfar Saba, Israel, run by Modi Avrutsky, an engineering genius, the company employs about 30 people in Israel and the US.

Investors include Matrix Partners, OVP Venture Partners from Seattle and the IDB Group from Israel.

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.