Taipower’s Chang-bin Solar Project, which is a 100-megawatt photovoltaic (PV) power plant located at the Changhua Coastal Industrial Park, generated its first kilowatt-hour of electricity in October 2018 and finished grid connection in March 2019. With an annual generation potential of 140 million kilowatt-hours, the Chang-bin Solar Project can meet the annual electricity demand of nearly 40,000 homes. Among the many enterprises that played a crucial role in the construction of this huge ground-mounted PV power plant, Skwentex International Corp. (SIC) was responsible for providing the inverters, which can be regarded as the heart of the whole power plant.
A PV or solar inverter converts the direct current outputted from PV modules (or solar panels) into the alternating current that can be fed into the electrical grid for consumption by homes and other end users. Hence, this component is essential for the stability and reliability of an entire PV system. PV inverters are further divided into two categories: string and central inverters. The latter are suitable for ground-mounted PV power plants.
Growing steadily since its establishment in 1989, SIC now has an extensive business portfolio that comprises the following three segments: (1) new energy business; (2) electronic components and assembly; and (3) functional materials and electronic equipment. SIC entered the solar energy market in 2009 as a dealer of branded components including central inverters from Satcon, string inverters from Delta, and PV modules from AUO Solar. In 2013, SIC created a subsidiary called Energy Guard that specializes in operation and maintenance (O&M) services for PV power plants. Presently, the various departments and subsidiaries of the company are providing solutions for many applications such as the monitoring of PV power plants, energy storage, electric vehicles, and services for centralized and distributed generation, etc.
Starting off as a dealer of PV modules and inverters, SIC has gradually expanded its solar business and evolved to become a provider of monitoring and O&M services for PV power plants. Now, the company has further branched into other fields like charging technologies for electric vehicles and green energy solutions. Its department of New Energy Business has accumulated a wealth of expertise over the years and celebrated many milestones. As of now, total installations of PV inverters supplied by SIC in Taiwan have reached the level of 500 megawatts. In North America, total installations of PV inverters that are covered under SIC’s after-sales services have come to 3 gigawatts.
Jeffrey Chuang, assistant vice president of SIC, pointed out that his company is able to use its many years of knowledge and experience to develop customized solutions for individual solar projects. SIC can help clients figure out how to maximize the rate of return of a project by devising a suitable range of development strategies and a follow-up solution package for engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC). Chuang also said that SIC and its subsidiaries operating worldwide all have a solid financial position and an impressive track record. Hence, they can maintain a long-term and reliable business relationship with their clients.
The above-mentioned advantages are also why SIC has been long favored in the solar energy market. A notable example of its past performances is the PV power plant located at the site of the Maanshan Nuclear Power Plant (a.k.a. No. 3 Nuclear Power Plant) in southern Taiwan. The company supplied the PV inverters for this PV power plant, which has now been in operation for seven years. Although the heat dissipation equipment in the machine room of the plant experienced malfunctions, SIC’s inverters continued to operate normally during these incidents. Since winning the contract for the solar project at the site of the Maanshan Nuclear Power Plant, SIC has been receiving orders for inverters used in various types of PV system. In addition to ground-mounted projects, the company has supplied solutions for rooftop and floating projects as well. It has gradually earned customers’ trust through its hard work and proactive engagement.
SIC recognizes that after-sales services deserve just as much (if not more) attention as sales services. The company has a team of technicians and engineers on standby to immediately assist clients with their problems. For instance, ground faults often occur in floating PV systems that operate on the surface of the water due to the high moisture level of the environment. Although this issue is not directly related to the quality of a PV inverter, SIC has taken the extra steps to strengthen the protection of the whole system. Chamber Pan, director of the company’s New Energy Business division, recalled that his team hit upon the idea of incorporating a residual-current device into the inverter to detect and interrupt a ground fault. This alternative solution allows clients to safely troubleshoot their PV systems before defects or malfunctions can inflict serious damages.
SIC achieves the high specification standards for the Chang-bin Solar Project
Regarding its contract with Taipower to supply the inverters for the Chang-bin Solar Project, SIC was able to successfully meet the specification requirements set by Taipower because of its professionalism and ability to meet the specific needs of individual clients. In particular, Taipower wanted the central inverters deployed at the project site to have the same level of monitoring capability as a string inverter. The power plant has a total generation capacity of 100 megawatts, which in turn is divided into 70-kilowatt units for management purposes. Using the conventional central inverters here would make the search for a single point of failure akin to finding a needle in the haystack. The longer the troubleshooting process drags on, the longer the repair time and the greater the financial loss resulting from the shutdown of the PV systems at the project site.
Faced with this challenge issued by Taipower with respect to specifications, SIC quickly developed an effective tailor-made solution. Pan said that his company requested further discussions with the partnering OEMs and got them to redesign the inverters for the project. The solution that was presented to and adopted by Taipower was one of its kind, as the integration of the string-level monitoring to the existing architecture of a central inverter entailed the development of wholly new components. In short, SIC’s central inverters for the Chang-bin Solar Project are the only ones in Taiwan’s solar energy market with the same monitoring function as a string inverter.
SIC have built up strong technical capabilities in inverters, PV modules, and EPC over many years. Therefore, the company can assist clients starting from the design stage and then through the entire development process. Specialists from the company can provide accurate on-site analyses and reliable repair services. Even PV power plants that were built in a much earlier period can be further optimized through the company’s O&M services. On the whole, SIC has a full range of products, services, and technology solutions that can ensure a solar project is running smoothly in very aspect. The company’s capabilities, together with its treatment of customers like family, are the keys to its success in the solar energy market.
The recent outbreak of the deadly disease known as COVID-19 has caused disruption across the supply chain for solar energy. To suppress the outbreak, countries around the world have resorted to measures such as border closures, city lockdowns, and shelter-in-place orders. As a result, manufacturing facilities for photovoltaic products have been shut down, and suppliers of raw materials have encountered delays in their delivery schedules. At the same time, the outbreak has also caused a freeze in demand across every section of the solar supply chain. Nevertheless, SIC is riding out this crisis and shows no sign of a slowdown in its operation. Pan said that SIC usually carries around more than two months of inventory, but it was also well-informed regarding the course of COVID-19 outbreak and adopted a farsighted strategy in order to be more prepared. With a good grasp of the market situation, SIC has not encountered any issues so far with the distribution and dispatch of products to customers. Furthermore, SIC has gained more confidence of its clients on account of its logistical performance during this difficult period.
Looking ahead to the future, Taiwan’s market for PV inverters is expected to keep growing as the country has established a target of 20 gigawatts for PV generation by 2025. For SIC, it is ready to take on the many challenges and opportunities that are to come. The company will be drawing from its knowledge of PV technologies and experience in project development to establish a lead in the fierce competition. Hopefully, new milestones will be set soon.
(Photo credit: Skwentex International Corp.)