Advanced Energy Industries (Nasdaq: AEIS) just announced a big PV inverter win.

The company's Solaron PV inverters have been selected to power a 150-megawatt project located in Arizona, awarded to Advanced Energy by Zachry Industrial, an EPC provider. Although the press release and representatives of AE did not reveal the name of the project, it's fairly obvious that it's Phase 1 of Sempra's Mesquite Solar project.

Sempra Generation is developing the massive 700-megawatt Mesquite Solar project, located near Phoenix, Arizona. Sempra selected Zachry Holdings as the EPC and Suntech as the panel supplier for the initial 200-megawatt (DC) phase of the build.  Now we know that the inverter supplier is AE.

The project is located near the Hassayampa 500-kV switchyard, a major transmission hub with access to southwestern U.S. markets. Transmission upgrades and site grading for the entire project have been completed in advance on the flat, privately held land. With 20-year power purchase agreements already signed with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and pending approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) -- all boxes have been checked for this project to go through.

Construction on Mesquite Solar I -- the first 150-megawatt phase of the Mesquite Solar complex -- is expected to begin in 2011. When completed in 2013, Mesquite Solar I will be one of the largest photovoltaic solar installations in North America.

I spoke with Ed Heacox, the VP of Solar Inverters at Advanced Energy. He said that the project will utilize 500-kilowatt inverters configured as 2-megawatt assemblies, supported by Advanced Energy’s service contract. The service contract is centered around uptime and ensures a 99-percent uptime. Compensation is provided for lost energy harvest and monitored on a per-minute basis.

The 2-megawatt power stations use 1000-volt architectures and incorporate Low Voltage Ride Through (LVRT). 

Aggregating 2 megawatts into one power station provides a set of intricate tradeoffs that the EPC had to consider -- longer cable lengths and more balance of system (BoS) versus lower cost of labor, installation, and land, as well as the speed of completing the project.

In previous conversations, Heacox has made the point that we (the industry, the press, and Wall St. analysts) are too focused on dollars-per-watt, while suggesting that we should be looking at LCOE or dollars per kilowatt-hour. Heacox urged getting away from the commodity-accelerating dollar per watt metric and focusing on full energy harvest, uptime, reliability, and cash flow over time.

“While AE is focused on LCOE, a subset of LCOE is dollar per watt installed. AE has an industry-leading cost position on a dollar-per-watt basis (part of LCOE) when considering Inverter plus BOS such as this 2-megawatt PowerStation. Driving down upfront cost is a key part of our LCOE focus.”

Competitors of AE at this size of inverter in North America include Satcon, Siemens, Schneider Electric (Xantrex), Solectria, SMA, and Emerson.

On a separate issue, Advanced Energy has achieved a world record CEC efficiency for an inverter of that size -- 98 percent CEC weighted efficiency for their 500-kilowatt HE inverter. (See slides below.)