The launch of Advanced Energy's grid-interactive, 1-megawatt inverter for large-scale solar arrays is the company’s latest response to the intense competition in the inverter market.
Along with its purchase last month of European inverter maker REFUsol, it is a clear indication that Advanced Energy (AE) has no intention of going the way of Satcon. (Satcon, formerly a leader in the U.S. inverter space, filed for bankruptcy late in 2012 and was liquidated.)
It's the first 1-megawatt inverter from a top-three manufacturer, according to AE Marketing VP Mike Dooley.
SMA, the inverter market's international leader, recently made a big investment in Zeversolar, a major Chinese supplier. Power One (PWER), recently purchased by multinational power sector giant ABB, ranks second.
Advanced Energy (AEIS) was the sixth largest inverter supplier in 2012 with 878 megawatts shipped, according to GTM Research senior solar analyst MJ Shiao, author of GTM Research’s report, Global PV Inverter Landscape 2013: Technologies, Markets and Survivors. REFUsol was the fourth largest.
“Combined, we will be the third largest in the world,” Dooley said, “and there is now a gap between the top three and the others.”
Source: GTM Research’s Global PV Inverter Landscape 2013: Technologies, Markets and Survivors
AE hopes the REFUsol purchase will give it international reach. “They are very strong in Europe,” Dooley said. “They already have an office in Japan. And they have a sales force and development team in India.”
“With Satcon’s demise,” Shiao recently noted, “Advanced Energy was one of the best positioned to grab additional share.” Even with AE’s REFUsol acquisition, SMA and Power-One are probably not “quaking in fear,” Shiao added, “but it does add significant resistance to their U.S. expansion and strengthens a major global competitor.”
AE believes the buy will maximize its own market expansion because of access to REFUsol’s three-phase string (TPS) inverter.
“Three-phase string is the next wave of innovation on commercial rooftops and in small ground applications,” Dooley said. “This is a new topology. The result is a lower LCOE on the installation side because there are no combiner boxes. The string inverter is essentially a combiner box.”
TPS is the European standard for commercial roofs, Dooley said, and an emerging solution in the rapidly expanding U.S. commercial and industrial (C&I) scale rooftop and ground-mount market. AE will be able to market the already fully certified REFUsol TPS without investing time and money in developing its own product.
“The acquisition certainly improves Advanced Energy’s competitive positioning considerably,” Shiao noted, “but doesn’t change the fundamental dynamics in the inverter industry.”
“We just completed our first shipment [of the new inverter] and we are ramping manufacturing,” Dooley said. “We shipped on time and on budget, and continue to ship multiple megawatts a week for a U.S. utility-scale project.” He would not reveal the customer or project.
It is sold as an inverter alone or as a fully integrated 1-megawatt or 2-megawatt system ready to be trucked to utility-scale solar power plant sites on a flatbed truck. “There are other 1-megawatt inverters, but they haven’t ramped,” Dooley said, “probably because of cost. We are cost-competitive.”
The new inverter is the outgrowth of AE’s work with the Department of Energy on its Solar Energy Grid Integration Systems (SEGIS) project. The project is aimed at developing Utility Interactive Controls that will make the inverter the interface between variable solar arrays and the grid.
The new inverter “has all the utility-required controls and those it will need for future utility requirements,” Dooley said. Developing them took “a lot of engineering and a lot of time to do it in a way that can be scaled.”
The SEGIS project, according to the DOE website, is “paving the way for increased amounts of PV solar electricity to flow seamlessly into the nation’s electrical grid.” Dooley described it as “an effort to look at the system as a whole instead of just the utility on one side and the inverter on the other.”