Yaskawa expands into US inverter market with Solectria acquisition

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The U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s Yaskawa Electric Corporation, Yaskawa America Inc., yesterday announced that it has acquired Solectria Renewable LLC, one of the largest inverter suppliers in the U.S.

Based in Kitakyushu, Japan, Yaskawa has purchased all shares owned by Massachusetts-based Solectria for an undisclosed sum. In the process, Solectria has immediately become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese technical giant.

In a statement issued by Yaskawa America, its COO and President Mike Knapek revealed that the deal was the result of the company’s efforts to broaden its global exposure in the renewable energy market and to expand the use of its technology expertise. "Solectria has built a strong and successful organization in the solar inverter market over the past 10 years," said Knapek. "The philosophies and strategies of both organizations are highly aligned on enabling sales growth and market expansion through superior customer experiences."

Analysts at IHS Technology ranked Solectria the fifth-largest inverter supplier in the U.S. in 2013. The company currently employs some 170 people and, according to its CEO James Worden, views this acquisition as a significantly positive step for its customers in North America. "They will have the same management team and personal interaction they are accustomed too," assured Worden, "with the advantage of a powerful, diversified global partner."

Benefits of global expansion

With this acquisition, IHS states that Yaskawa has become 11th-largest inverter supplier worldwide, with a 3% global share of revenues based on 2013 figures. Yaskawa Electric is worth an estimated $3.6 billion and had recently become one of the leading suppliers in Japan’s inverter market, holding a 6% share.

As Japan edges into the lead as the world’s largest inverter market in 2014 – worth an estimated $2.2 billion, ahead of the U.S. market at $1.3 billion – Yaskawa has smartly maneuvered itself to take advantage of both markets. In fact, according to IHS, the acquisition affords them the unique position of being the only inverter supplier to hold a top-ten position in the world’s two largest PV inverter markets.

"By developing products targeted at the booming market for commercial rooftop PV systems in Japan, Yaskawa has steadily grown its market share to become the fifth-largest supplier in its domestic market," said senior analyst for solar at IHS, Cormac Gilligan.” Yaskawa’s core product is a 10kW inverter targeted at the small commercial market in Japan, which is forecast to grow 75% to reach 5 GW in 2014.

According to Gilligan, Yaskawa’s previous business interests had seen the company almost completely reliant on the domestic market – a situation not atypical to Japan’s wider PV landscape. This acquisition, however, could represent a watershed moment not only for the company, but for other Japanese suppliers thus far reluctant to expand internationally.

Japan’s small commercial market, which is one of Yaskawa’s two key markets, is on course to grow by 75% this year, while the company’s other key market – the entire U.S. – is poised for 52% growth, putting Yaskawa in an extremely strong position. "Its strong position in two key markets, bankability and scale is likely to catapult Yaskawa into the ten-largest suppliers globally in 2014,” said Gilligan. "And it also makes it very well placed to expand and capitalize on new opportunities in other growth markets."

In terms of technology, Solectria’s portfolio neatly complements that of Yaskawa’s. The former’s main strength is large central inverters, while Yaskawa has focused largely on lower-power, three-phase inverters, especially its 10kW models. In acquiring Solectria, Yaskawa is now perfectly positioned to compete in the U.S.’s intensely competitive commercial and utility scale space, added Gilligan.