Tristan Kreager, Fronius USA

Advancing Power Electronics for Energy Storage and Decentralized Solar D

In 2014, Fronius USA began rolling out its SnapINverter generation of single and 3-phase string inverters for PV projects in North America. In 2015, Fronius shared the headlines with Tesla as one of two inverter manufacturers developing high–dc-voltage multiport inverters for integration with Tesla’s Powerwall Home Battery. Tristan Kreager serves as director of solar energy at Fronius USA, where he is in charge of all sales, strategy and marketing efforts. Previously, Kreager was the manager of hybrid energy solutions for SMA America. He has been active in the renewables industry since 1994, specializing in remote off-grid and grid-interactive backup systems, including industrial-scale microgrid applications.

SP: What was your introduction to solar energy?

TK: In 1993 I was up in Montana, living and going to school. A few friends and I purchased some land off the grid about eight miles from the closest paved road. We needed power to charge batteries and get the lights turned on. Purely out of necessity, we located some PV modules and old locomotive starting batteries. We used solar energy to power my house and the two additional homes we built on the property. That early experience off-grid led to my initial understanding of the technology and got me interested in the industry. For several years, I supported friends who were looking to move off the grid and helped them understand what they needed to get their homesteads set up.

SP: When did you begin working in the industry and what positions have you held?

TK: In 2007, I decided to actively pursue grid-tied solar as a career. Through the support of Solar Energy International and its training initiatives, I got my technical background up to speed. I started attending every trade show in the industry and networking as much as possible to get a good understanding of the markets, the trends and the players.

In 2008, I cofounded Stellar Roofing and Solar, a grid-tied solar and roofing company in the Front Range of Colorado that evolved into Stellar Energy Contractors.  Our focus was primarily residential. We did both grid-tied and remote off-grid installations, as well as energy efficiency projects that leveraged Colorado rebates for window upgrades and other energy efficiency measures. I transitioned from Stellar in 2010 to AEE Solar, which David Katz founded. My role was as the territory sales manager for the central US, and included design and support of both grid-tied and off-grid residential and commercial systems.

Eventually I decided to shift into the manufacturing side of the industry, specifically power electronics. I moved over to SMA America and served as its off-grid sales manager for the US. Our group worked on residential as well as commercial and industrial applications. It was a very unique and interesting experience. We were getting a lot of practical insights into the battery-backup market as it was starting to trend higher. That department within SMA evolved into the hybrid energy division, which focused on off-grid and battery-backup applications, but also PV diesel offset, a new market segment. We assessed global opportunities, and one of the most intriguing was the mining industry. So we started targeting the mining industry and designing systems where PV was essentially a negative load on diesel-dominant hybrid or off-grid systems. These projects often didn’t involve batteries. That market has been slowly evolving, and we’re seeing much more demand as businesses like Caterpillar and Cummins move into these markets.

In April of 2015, I moved over to Fronius as a national sales manager for all products, and in October I was given the opportunity to take on the entire solar division from a sales, marketing and service perspective. That’s my current role for the US market.

SP: The buzz surrounding grid-tied energy storage has continued to increase in the last year. What’s the status of Fronius’ Primo Hybrid system?

TK: We are in the midst of the R&D and initial launch of our Primo Hybrid product, which Fronius is developing to provide backup capabilities and ancillary services for the US grid-tied market. Fronius International has already successfully launched residential energy storage products in Europe and Australia, and we’re seeing significant traction in those markets. Our key partners include Tesla as well as our own Fronius Energy Package. The latter is a comprehensive Fronius-branded solution that includes lithium-ion storage technologies. The US version of the Primo Hybrid will incorporate both dc and ac coupling, and allow for multiple dc inputs as well as an input for the seamless retrofitting of existing PV systems.

The business case for energy storage in the US on the residential side is slowly growing. As we head into 2017 and beyond, we’re expecting that the deployment of these systems is going to increase dramatically. Right now we’re seeing business cases in markets such as Hawaii and also some incentive-driven markets such as California. We anticipate, moving forward, that a significant portion of the grid-tied market will involve an energy storage element.

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