Robert Erickson boosts PV panel performance

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Not every installation of a photovoltaic array gets the most out of its solar technology. Parts of some PV arrays are shaded by trees, while others are mounted on roofs that face a less than optimal direction. Unfortunately, that diminishes the overall performance of the PV array as even a small area of interference causes the entire array to perform less efficiently.

That's why CU-Boulder Professor Robert Erickson, who co-directs the Colorado Power Electronics Center in electrical, computer, and energy engineering, developed a technique for increasing the power generated by solar PV arrays when their panels are mismatched. As a result, the energy generated by the PV array is increased, the costs of system design and installation are reduced, and it becomes feasible to install PV arrays in new locations such as on gabled or non-planar roofs.

A company called Phobos Energy in Lafayette, Colorado, is taking the breakthrough technology to market after securing a license from the University of Colorado. Phobos is an abbreviation for "photovoltaic balance-of-system," Erickson's approach to eeking out the best total performance from a PV array, regardless of whether it may be partially compromised.

Erickson took entrepreneurial leave in 2011 to help launch the company as its chief technology officer, while Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur Pete Del Vecchio serves as chief executive officer.  The company has received development funding from a large industrial partner and is seeking additional funding to expand operations.

ColoradoBiz magazine recognized Erickson's breakthrough achievement and named him a "research rock star" last summer. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and of CU-Boulder's Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, where he collaborates with faculty across the campus on research and education initiatives.

A CU faculty member since 1982, Erickson is the author of Fundamentals of Power Electronics, now in its second edition, along with about 100 journal and conference papers in the area of power electronics. He holds eight patents for innovative technologies.

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