French PV installer EFI has won a contract with AST Groupe to supply solar PV systems equipped with Enphase's microinverter technology to more than 1,500 new homes over the next two years. Under the deal EFI will install PV systems with Enphase systems on 500 new homes in France in 2014, and 1,000 homes in 2015.
While the total capacity represented by this deal is only 750 kW, this is one of the larger deals Enphase has announced to date in Europe. Only 15% of Enphase's sales in the fourth quarter of 2013 were outside the United States.
Market analysts say that microinverter technology is gaining traction not only France, but across the continent. IHS Technology predicts that annual microinverter shipments in France will reach 35 MW in 2015, to represent 13% of new residential PV inverter systems in that year.
IHS Technology Associate Director of Solar Supply Chain and Energy Storage Sam Wilkinson says the established presence of string inverters presents a challenge for microinverters. The resistance to using them is largely a result of the installer base being very experienced in using traditional string inverters and therefore less likely to switch to new disruptive technologies, notes Wilkinson.
In contrast, we've seen far less resistance with comparatively immature roof-top markets such as UK, Australia and USA, which are the three largest markets for microinverters.
The price difference between microinverters and string inverters is also higher in Europe than the United States. However, GTM Research Director of Solar Research MJ Shiao says that the shift in from feed-in tariffs to self-consumption in many European PV markets may help microinverters gain market share.
In reality, what that tends to mean is smaller system sizes, explains Shiao. The movement of PV systems down to smaller sizes is something that does strongly favor microinverter systems.
AST Groupe says that it is choosing to install solar PV systems on the new homes to comply with French thermal regulation RT2012, which sets a limit to the primary energy consumption of new buildings for heating, ventilation, air conditioning, hot water and lighting. The company notes that PV systems will also help homes which it builds to comply with RT2020, which mandates on-site renewable energy generation.
A collaboration between EFI and AST Groupe has already resulted in the installation of more than 100 PV systems equipped with Enphase microinverter systems. AST Groupe is one of France's largest home builders, and built more than 2,000 homes in the nation in 2013.