All Energy 2013: Optimism as changes loom

The election of Australia’s new conservative federal government last month looks likely to bring to an need a carbon price mechanism and renewable energy support bodies that fostered PV in the country. However despite this, the All Energy trade show opened in Australia yesterday with exhibitors reporting strong traffic, despite quieter halls than in 2012.

The general mood at Australia’s largest renewable energy trade show was also upbeat, with exhibitors pointing to the emerging commercial rooftop PV market as being a market segment showing great promise. Residential rooftop PV remains dominant at present, with suppliers at the show saying that demand has been strong as the market has transitioned from a FIT-based market to an economic one.

High and rising electricity prices, high irradiation and a strong Australian dollar remain strong drivers of residential PV in Australia, with in excess of 2 GW cumulative installed PV capacity having been added in recent years.

"We are happy with our results, PV is tough market especially these days, but our business in Australia continues to grow," reported Nitalia Slamet, the sales and marketing manager with Krannich Australia. The solar wholesaler opened a fully owned Australian subsidiary in May 2012. Slamet told pv magazine that the company’s Australian sales figures show that there has been a trend towards larger installation sizes.

Portfolio differentiation

Good numbers of PV installers from throughout Australia attended the All Energy trade show and an emerging theme was a desire by installers to achieve differentiation from competitors by offering unique product portfolios. Swiss inverter manufacturer SolarMax is celebrating having been present in the Australian market for one year at the trade show and Daniel Freudiger, SolarMax’s General Manager International, said that the company’s business in Australia has benefited from this trend.

SolarMax was not present in the Australian market during the FIT-driven boom in previous years, however Freudiger said that the present market in Australia is sustainable. "Being a later market entrant means that things weren’t always easy for us," said Freudiger, "because nobody was simply waiting for us." Despite this, SolarMax has picked up supply deals in Australia and is too looking towards the emerging commercial rooftop market to continue to provide new opportunities. "Even though incentives are gone it is still a good market and with small commercial set to take off it’s perfect for us," Freudiger told pv magazine. SolarMax will expand its Australian team later this year and through 2014.

The ease of doing business in Australia achieving product certification has been noted by foreign suppliers to the Australian PV market. With the county’s population situated around the major cities along the country’s coastline, establishing distribution networks is not as challenging as the country’s vast geography may appear to present. SolarMax said that managing a supply chain from Switzerland was challenging, however not insurmountably so.

Microinverter buzz

In keeping with the theme towards product portfolio diversification, micro inverter suppliers had a strong presence on the All Energy trade show floor. Chinese manufacturer APS had a large booth at the show and the company reports that Australia has sold 70 – 80% of its production into the Australian market.

"Our strategy was to be geographic leader in the microinverter segment in China and Australia," said CEO Zhi-Min Ling. The firm has solar around 40 MW of product in Australia. Zhi.-Min Ling said he too is looking towards the commercial rooftop market as a good opportunity for microinverters. APS is releasing a portfolio of larger capacity microinverters into the Australian market. APS claims that it had the first micro inverter product certified in Australia, in 2011.

The All Energy trade show concludes today.