EDITORIAL TEAM: What are the sales pledges that make the PIKO CI stand out? For example, in terms of software?
THOMAS GARBER: With its many features, the PIKO CI is firmly placed right at the front. Customers praise the app-based commissioning. Since the PIKO CI has communication interfaces such as WLAN as standard, it can be conveniently controlled with the associated PIKO CI app. This means that it is easy to trigger updates via the app or network. It takes little more than a click. Configuration is very easy, even for interconnected operation. The import/export function is used here so that the slave devices connected to the PIKO CI master can be parametrised quickly and easily. The PIKO CI's country-specific set-up also has a role to play here. In the app, the device can be configured in accordance with all currently valid guidelines in the countries of operation. This is very time-saving and convenient.
EDITORIAL TEAM: And what about the advantages of the hardware?
THOMAS GARBER: The circuit breaker function is of interest for operating devices in Germany. For an output of up to 135 kW, there is no need for an external circuit breaker thanks to the integrated Smart Switch relay on the PIKO CI. This obviously saves a lot of money. And there is the ease of installation of the solar panels. In the 50/60 kW variant, we have equipped the device with 4 MPP trackers as standard. The layout is highly flexible. The strings are simply plugged in; job done. I have already mentioned device communication. The PIKO CI has WiFi and 2 LAN interfaces, making daisy chaining possible. Transmission and receipt of data is integrated in the device, meaning that no additional solutions are needed. The PIKO CI's integrated type 2 overvoltage protection for AC and DC means that no additional external protection is required. And for maintenance work, etc., there is the DC circuit switch. Simply throw the switch and the device is isolated from the input voltage. Another feature, which is certainly of even greater importance, is the fact that the device can be controlled via ripple control reception and is compatible with common parking controllers. This is well regarded by the user.
EDITORIAL TEAM: What enables the PIKO CI to now handle the higher input voltage?
THOMAS GARBER: Solar module technology and sizes are developing rapidly due to the growing demand for power and subsequently offer more power because larger semiconductor wafers mean higher currents and the PIKO CI must be able to process these perfectly. In this respect, we are now at 18 amps per DC input for the 50/60 kW model of our series. The PIKO CI is therefore already compatible with project modules of over 670 W and can process the higher input currents safely and without loss of power. But even the new 400W modules with 108 cells made of 182 mm wafers can now be interconnected even more flexibly. Of these, even three strings can be connected to one MPP tracker. In other words, we are always well prepared for higher module demands.
EDITORIAL TEAM: The PIKO CI gives users the option of consuming self-generated electricity directly, feeding it into the utility grid or using the solar power later on. What storage solutions are supported?
THOMAS GARBER: We are constantly expanding our range of storage solutions through joint ventures with our partners such as BMZ, BYD and other renowned manufacturers, which will follow this year. The systemic "perfect match" for growing performance and revenue requirements is an interconnected solution: the PIKO CI processes the solar power generated and passes on any surpluses to the connected PLENTICORE BI battery inverter. This then charges the BYD storage unit. The whole system is modular. With a BYD Combiner Box, it is even possible to store solar power in three BYD storage towers. At the full stage of expansion, this means that up to 66 kWh of storage capacity is available. This creates different economic perspectives: a high degree of self-sufficiency or the sale of electricity to utility companies. The trend is to build a PV system as large as possible. If this needs extending again, KOSTAL offers directly customised solutions that fit the existing system. Thanks to smart energy management, systems can be adapted ideally, even to special short-term requirements, where a large bakery, for example, needs its greatest energy resources at night. In such cases, customers can yield energy during the day, store it on a large scale and enjoy self-sufficiency to the greatest possible extent at night. Basically, anything is possible. Depending on the business model, the PV system, with the PIKO CI at its core, can be designed individually.
EDITORIAL TEAM: The PIKO CI can be used in a network with various components, such as energy meters, solar modules, battery inverters, storage units and more. How can the activity be checked? To achieve high efficiency, a detailed overview is needed. What monitoring options are available?
THOMAS GARBER: We have solved this issue from various perspectives. We offer free monitoring software in the form of the KOSTAL Solar Portal and the KOSTAL Solar App. All parameters of the devices involved in the activity are not only reported but also stored via data logging for in-depth analyses. Alternatively, it is also possible to implement network-controlled monitoring. Essentially, the Modbus protocols are important here. System controllers can also be used, for example those from SolarLog or WAGO. The customer wants a certifiable system and we can deliver this with ease. And if something is not running perfectly or a service is required, you can be conveniently informed by means of a message and do not have to constantly keep an eye on the system. “Remote” is also a topic that KOSTAL Service is happy to recommend because access from outside can further facilitate use. In other words: efficiency is thereby always guaranteed as well as safety and ease of handling.
EDITORIAL TEAM: So the PIKO CI upgrade is driven by demand?
THOMAS GARBER: Exactly. The system sizes are growing, the ROI is rapid and currently even supported by the state. As the energy yields of solar modules increase, the demand for commercial inverters is growing. Therefore, the challenge for the future is to convert high energy yields very efficiently and with high performance. And to communicate perfectly with the connected devices and consumers. In the upgrade - as already mentioned in part - we have adapted all of this for the new requirements and it will always be possible for the devices to be redesigned to suit these rates of increase in solar energy yields.
EDITORIAL TEAM: And what can we expect from PIKO CI in the next stages of development? High compatibility with ever increasing input voltages, but what else?
THOMAS GARBER: Correct, one major issue is extended input currents. In future PIKO CI generations, we will purposefully move away from 60 kW and achieve higher performance classes. In terms of software, the AutoUpdate function will bring new features to the device that will make operation even more flexible and efficient. In terms of storage solutions, we will develop more alternatives, such as a joint venture with LG by 2023. The power extension for the PLENTICORE BI battery inverter to 20 kW is also taking us in this direction. Of course, there are also some things I cannot talk about at this stage. But I can say that the PIKO CI has been very well received on the market and we want to continue to set standards with it, as we did when we entered the market. So it continues seamlessly.
EDITORIAL TEAM: Thank you very much for the interview, Mr Garber.