PV power optimizer shipments to reach 4 GW by 2016

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What market development do you see for optimizers?

Last year we saw shipments of power optimizers between 400 to 450 MW worldwide. We are expecting this will grow to just over 4 GW by 2016. So it’s a large increase.

What about this year?

This year we see a good increase, but I don’t have any firm numbers yet. We are talking certainly about double digit growth rate for 2013 though. We are seeing a wide range somewhere from 600 to 900 MW.

Do you see major regional differences?

In the longer term, Europe will be the largest market, followed by Asia and then the Americas. In the U.S., power optimizers face great competition from micro inverters. So this is the reason for the lower growth there. The other reason is really the actual makeup of the regions. So if there are more residential and small commercial installations like in Europe, that’s a greater opportunity for power optimizers. Whereas if there is more focus on large ground-mounted installations, that’s not so appropriate for optimizers.

There are the two big power optimizer players: Tigo Energy and Solar Edge. What are their respective market shares? Do others have a chance?

Almost everything is from these two companies. The share is around 40% Tigo, 60% Solar Edge. Others companies do have a chance, but there are no really big competitors at the moment. PowerOne has a power optimizer, but we’ve not yet seen a big push from them and it’s just one product they sell from a large range. Inverters remain their focus.

At the beginning, the main selling argument was the additional yield that can be gained using power optimizers. However, yield is said to be rather limited in well-designed installations – between 3 to 5%.

In well-designed installations with no shading and no orientation issues that amount is probably correct. Where they really add benefit, however, is in shaded systems, where the yield increase can be much more significant, up to 25%.

A 3 to 5% additional yield would allow extra costs of around €0.03 to €0.05/kWp. Is this within reach?

Not yet. The price of an optimizer is around €0.07 kWp as a minimum and, in many cases it’s significantly higher. So in well-designed systems, financially it is difficult to make a good business case.

Does this explain the relatively small market?

Yes, they [optimizers] are mainly for shaded applications. Besides this, they also provide better monitoring and communication to the system. The other point to note is, that when you use a power optimizer, the inverter can be simplified as well. So even if you are adding cost for the optimizer, the inverter cost can be lower. You can use an inverter with an fixed MPP and a fixed input voltage. This is what SolarEdge does.

How do you see the cost curve developing over the next couple of years? We certainly see good cost reduction potential for optimizers as volume increases. So we expect the price will fall in average 10 to 12% per year.

Read full interview in the March edition of pv magazine, where you will also find further articles on the photovoltaic inverter and microinverter market.

Edited by Becky Beetz.