The maturation of the solar PV market has shifted demand away from product portfolios consisting of one-size-fits-all solutions to those featuring more sophisticated and customized solutions. Since the enactment of China’s 531 Policy, the solar PV market has also been transitioning from the earlier period characterized by instances of sharp and sudden growth to the current period of slow and steady development. In this new phase, the solar PV industry is experiencing consolidation and shakeout that will ultimately orient it toward a healthier path of development. To survive the latest round of industry shakeout, solar enterprises will need to adopt a forward-thinking mindset and build a complete portfolio with digital energy solutions.
The PV module market in 2018 has witnessed a substantial diversification in products. Module manufacturers actively pursue different combinations of technologies to increase output and efficiency of their products. A notable example is the market arrival of modules that integrate half-cut, bifacial cells with double-glass encapsulation. This type of products aims to maximize power generation in the given area. Also, the voltage of PV modules has been raised from 600V at the beginning to the current level of 1,500V. Boosting VDC reduces wire losses and improves efficiency by reducing the number of power equipment needed. These benefits in turn are passed on to the EPC of PV projects, since using high-voltage PV systems lowers CAPEX and increases power generation. However, higher voltage also increases the risk of hazards. Thus, the performance and reliability of a PV inverter, as the heart of a PV power plant, is very important for the deployment of high-voltage PV systems.
The operating temperature for conventional PV modules is -40°C~85°C, whereas the permissible ambient temperature for most inverters is -25°C~60°C. An additional 10°C above the 60°C ceiling will double the chance of inverter malfunctioning. Hence, the temperature management and ventilation mechanisms within the inverter are critical in establishing the optimal conversion efficiency for a PV power plant.
EnergyTrend, the green energy division of TrendForce, offers a comparative analysis of the PV inverter demand by region in its latest (3Q18) Gold Member Solar Report: PV Industry Supply Chain Capacity and Production Forecast. This report finds that the US solar market prefers central inverters, while the demand for string inverters has risen significantly in China due to the rapid proliferation of DG projects in the country. Among the inverter brands, China’s Huawei has risen to become the world’s largest supplier by first becoming the market leader in string inverters.
Germany’s SMA Solar Technology also warrants attention because the company holds sizable market shares in different regions of the world. SMA has even established itself the Japanese market that is known for its high entry barriers. Although Chinese inverter brands have released products offering good C/P ratios, SMA remains the world’s third largest inverter supplier. Furthermore, SMA’s revenue surpassed that of the second largest supplier by 43%. EnergyTrend analyst Sharon Chen has pointed out that SMA, which has developed a strong local presence in overseas markets, holds an extensive portfolio covering MLPE, ESS, and O&M. The company is also one of the earliest inverter suppliers that successfully applied the concept of digital energy solution to products.