According to GTM Research’s recent report, 1,500-Volt PV Systems and Components 2016-2020, over 4.6 gigawatts of 1,500-volt utilitysolarprojects will be installed this year. The system-cost reductions that can be achieved by installing 1,500-volt systems in place of 1,000-volt systems are significant, the 1,500-volt supplier landscape is growing rapidly, and 1,500-volt projects are springing up quickly as a result.
The primary questions that remain are how fast the market will transition and where it will happen first. The evolution to 1,500 volts is underway, but the how and when varies from market to market.
FIGURE: Near-Term Outlook for 1,500-Volt Systems in Major Utility Solar Markets
Source: GTM Research 1,500-Volt PV Systems and Components 2016-2020
Markets with few bottlenecks for 1,500 volts
Let’s start with the United States, the founding market and first major geography for 1,500-volt systems. The once-expected step-down of the federal Investment Tax Credit from 30 percent to 10 percent did wonders for 1,500-volt development, as it created a massive pipeline of utility solar projects and encouraged the market to develop rapid cost reductions to ensure project viability without a 30 percent tax credit. While the extension no longer means those radical cost reductions are required, 1,500-volt systems are here to stay. According to the report, over 30 percent of utility projects installed in 2016 will take advantage of 1,500-volt technology, and the market for 1,500 volts will only continue to grow.
Europe, Middle East, and Africa
The markets of Europe have always been the land of higher-voltage, lower-cost PV systems. However, the limited near-term size of utility solar markets there will keep the 1,500-volt market relatively small. Growing markets in the Middle East and Africa present more immediate opportunities. These markets are highly accepting of new technology and tend to tolerate more risk to maximize cost savings.
We see India as a market that will be an early 1,500-volt adopter as well. The presence of First Solar, the leading global advocate for 1,500-volt systems, and an established ecosystem of foreign component vendors will result in India also being an early installer of 1,500-volt systems.
Markets with minor bottlenecks for 1,500 volts
Developers have been timid of 1,500-volt systems in Latin America. Buyers in these markets have historically preferred components with exceptionally strong track records due to the remoteness of many project locations, particularly in Chile. However, the existence of many leading U.S. and European utility developers in these markets volts should encourage 1,500-volt installations relatively early on.
China and Southeast Asia
Though China is the world’s largest solar market and represents the greatest long-term market for the 1,500-volt technology, there has been minimal near-term interest in 1,500 volts. Chinese module and inverter vendors with global product offerings have begun to promote 1,500-volt systems in the region, but most installations to date have been pilot-type projects.
Markets with major bottlenecks for 1,500 volts
The last utility solar market to fully transition to 1,500 volts will be Japan. Near-term demand will mostly be limited to 1,000 and even 600 volts, as the high feed-in tariff does little to promote system-cost reduction, and market players are typically very conservative. However, there are strong advocates for 1,500-volt systems in Japan, and the use of 1,500-volt technology is not restricted by any form of code. This creates an opportunity for foreign suppliers, as many domestic vendors have not been eager to introduce 1,500-volt components.
Though it will vary by market, the global shift of utility PV systems to a standard of 1,500 volts has begun. The supply chain must continue to grow, and developers will require more evidence of field-tested viability before jumping aboard. However, the overall path toward low-cost 1,500-volt PV systems has been forged. Now it's time to ask what will come next.
Scott Moskowitz is an analyst with GTM Research and the lead author of 1,500-Volt PV Systems and Components 2016-2020.