Conflicting 2011 PV inverter figures released

In its latest PV Inverter Supply & Demand Report, IMS Research has found that at over 26 gigawatts (GW), growth in the 2011 photovoltaic inverter marketplace was up by over 10 percent from 2010’s figures. This record was achieved, it said, despite the "huge" inventory buildup from the year before and following eight GW worth of shipments in the fourth quarter of 2011. It added, "In total, IMS Research estimates shipments grew by up to 15 percent globally in 2011, but revenues were flat in U.S. dollar terms and slightly down in euros."

Meanwhile, IHS iSuppli has said, in its PV Inverter Tracker report, that inverter shipments dropped by one percent in 2011, down from 23.6 GW in 2010, to 23.4 GW. This decrease was also said to have been accompanied by a "large" 15 percent drop in revenue, from €6.1 billion in 2010, to €4.4 billion in 2011. "Prices plunged a steep 14 percent during the year – much worse than earlier forecasts predicting only a 10 percent contraction," said the company in a statement released.

It attributes the decline to "challenging conditions" in such key markets as Germany, where shipments dropped from 9.9 GW in 2010, to 6.1 GW in 2011, and the Czech Republic, where at 55 megawatts (MW), shipments were massively down from 1.5 GW in 2010.

Why the difference?

Having contact both parties, to see where the discrepancy may lie, IMS research associate, Stacey May, told pv magazine, "Around 40-50 of the world’s largest suppliers provide their sales and shipment data to us, accounting for approximately 85 percent of the market. These inputs are cross-checked using our other data points throughout the supply chain … I should also point out that many of the suppliers are private companies and do not publicly state the results. However, we are the only market research firm that collects this information from them."

In an initial response, Henning Wicht, director and principal analyst at IHS iSuppli, said the difference most likely comes from the company’s 2010 figures, which count higher 2010 shipments than IMS. He added that preliminary inverter installation figures from SMA Technology – an estimated 23 GW – also tally with IHS iSuppli’s calculations.

Meanwhile, speaking to pv magazine, report author Greg Sheppard agreed, and said that a lot of the discrepancy will lie in the different methodologies of the research companies. "If you look across a two-year period, the numbers are pretty close, so it’s the way they got categorized in one year versus the other," he explained.

Regional variations

IMS Research went on to say that its figures saw "major" regional variations. For instance, agreeing with IHS iSuppli, Ash Sharma, senior research director at IMS, said that although Germany was the largest market, 2011 inverter shipments there fell by more than a quarter. "This was because of the very high inventory levels in the country at the start of the year as customers sat on high stocks of string inverters," explained Sharma, who added, "Although many of these inverters were subsequently re-exported to other markets or returned to manufacturers, underlying demand was still not high enough and saw shipment sink considerably."

He further told pv magazine that the second biggest market for photovoltaic inverter shipments was Italy. At nearly three GW, China ranked as the third biggest market, followed by the U.S. and Japan, respectively.

IHS iSuppli’s information slightly varies again from IMS’ here. Specifically, it states, "China had the largest increase in inverter shipments for the year, reaching 1.6 GW in 2011 from just 691 MW in 2010. The United States was second, climbing to 2.8 GW, up from 1.5 GW."

Brand leaders

IHS iSuppli says that SMA Solar topped the inverter suppler charts, having remained the dominant supplier in 2011. Meanwhile, Power-One ranked second, followed by Kaco New Energy, Refusol GmbH, Siemens Industry Automation, Satcon Technology Corp., Fronius International GmbH, Ingeteam Energy, Elettronica Santerno, and Danfoss Solar.

While Sharma would not provide specifics today, according to a survey conducted by IMS in 2011, the brands aforementioned are in line with its findings.

The future

Generally, IMS believes that inventory levels are now relatively "normal." Europe, specifically, has reduced its build-up. However, regional variations again exist, so that in the U.S. and Asia, levels are "are understood to have increased considerably". "In the USA this was caused by customers stock-piling large volumes of inverters ahead of the expiration of the 1603 program. These inverters will of course now be installed in 2012," explains Sharma.

IHS iSuppli agrees that the market should be much more stable in 2012. It further forecasts growth of five percent this year, despite the fact that revenues are set to decline. From 2013 to 1016, the company additionally expects to see "successive expansion". "While revenue will still decline in 2012, the retreat will ease to just three percent, after which growth is expected to return and then climb to the 20 percent range by 2014 as demand from new markets begins to make an impact," it said.

It added that in particular, the U.S., China and Japan will represent the largest absolute growth in inverter opportunities this year. India and other emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and MENA are also expected to do well. France and Italy, however, will "run into stiffer headwinds in 2012".

Finally, Sheppard said that the German market could also see further stimulation on the back of new feed-in tariff cuts this year.