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The barriers between consumers and renewable energy systems are fast eroding. Not only has the price of solar panels and batteries dropped considerably over the recent years, but innovators in the field are making it easier to operate, integrate, and customize solutions for home owners and commercial clients alike.

“If you had to characterize where the industry is going in one word, that would be simplicity,” says Brian Pasquill, Solar Specialty Channel Manager with Schneider Electric. “It's about making the components of a renewable energy system talk to each other and making that end user experience as intuitive and straightforward as possible.”

Indeed, advances in solar energy components are adding a new level of interoperability for end users.  Schneider Electric's own ComBox, for instance, integrates with solar energy equipment to give users the means to control and monitor their systems remotely. For residents, that's opened up opportunities to manage energy generation and storage functions at their cottage while still in the city, or keep tabs on usage statistics via a mobile device at home.

“With this technology, everything is connected and on the same network. You can go into the platform on your smartphone or tablet and see your total solar generation over the day, the peaks and valleys through the week, or even finer details like how much your generators are coming on,” explains Pasquill.

Solar energy professionals can also benefit from devices like the ComBox, as they provide a means to check and adjust their customers' settings, review system faults, update firmware, or track their combined user base through software like Schneider's Insight platform.

“That's really the way forward – systems that can be checked and interacted with in real time through a mobile device. That makes everything more accessible to consumers, and brings a new level of customization to the services provided by their solar energy suppliers,” says Pasquill.

Innovations in the solar technology itself are making renewable energy option a more viable solution for consumers. Lithium-ion batteries, for example, are fast becoming a stronger and more reliable alternative to traditional lead acid batteries thanks to their exponentially longer lifespans and more agreeable cost per kilowatt.

Moreover, adds Pasquill, emerging components like Schneider's Bridge are making systems more durable, explaining: “Lithium-Ion batteries need to take control of their own charging profile, and they have their own battery management system (BMS). The Bridge will initially be an intermediary device that allows batteries such as the LG Li-Ion take control of the charging profile of the XW inverter to allow the inverter to become a slave to the battery’s BMS. Schneider is the first to provide a 48V solution that integrates LG batteries. The 2nd generation Bridge will incorporate all of the functionality of the ComBox for monitoring and control of the system.

It's components like these that are positioning solar energy systems as an efficient, affordable, and reliable alternation to the traditional grid. Likewise, it's making those traditional power suppliers take notice. In recent years, energy suppliers have started rolling out programs to integrate consumer battery storage solutions to better suit their generation needs.

All told, the costs and complexities that may have traditionally held consumers back from considering solar energy systems are disappearing. In their place are solar energy innovators who are making it more appealing to go “off-grid”.

“The industry is to a point where we can build a solution that specifically suits what you need, and has the scalability to grow with those needs,” says Pasquill, adding, “Considering the financial incentives and ease of use, I see a lot more consumers getting on board.”

Brian Pasquill is Solar Specialty Channel Manager with Schneider Electric. For more, visit Canadian Energy, Canada's exclusive supplier for Schneider Electric.

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