Analysis: Innovation is mounting

pv magazine: What particular MLPE and mounting products from the list most intrigue you, and why?

From the mounting side, we’ve seen quite a lot of momentum in tracker technology, particularly in ground mount installations where trackers are starting to be used a lot in 2015. The market leader is Array Technologies, and they have released here a V3 with torsion dampening that is interesting (#17 in the array-changing technologies guide). The unique selling point here is the reduction in the number of motors, and the enabling of a higher density of modules because they’ve decreased the spacing between the modules. This reduction in the number of components required is a good development. This all results in a decreased level of O&M, and Array Technologies has stressed that there is limited maintenance required with this product, which results in a lower cost for the consumer.

Similarly, the list reveals a lot of innovation from other suppliers, not least NEXTracker, which has introduced a tracker that runs on batteries (#5), meaning the tracker can still be powered should the cabling come loose. This is really helping to grow the market for trackers, and chimes with IHS forecasts that fixed-tilt arrays will be used less and less in the coming years.

Jinko partnering with Maxim on power optimizers (#39) is interesting. This collaboration is to negate the effects of shading to allow for higher densities of modules in installation. This is where we are expecting installers and homeowners to want to really optimize their space on the roof and get the most out of their system. SolarEdge’s new power optimizer (#23) sees the company going from strength to strength. We have seen huge momentum for this particular product in the U.S., where they are the leading supplier in this space and we expect this to continue.

Overall, have you been impressed by the levels of innovation on display?

Yes, generally. One trend that I have seen is epitomized in SMA’s 1,500 V inverter. These are their large 2.5 MW central inverters (#38 in the array-changing technologies guide). And we’ve also seen that ABB will release its own 1,500 V inverter (#37) at Intersolar Europe. In line with that we’ve seen that leading suppliers are typically keeping the same size footprint for their inverters, but increasing the power density. So going from 800kW to 1 MW, and this will lead to improvements on the overall cost and improvements in the LCOE for EPCs. I see this as a key development, especially in the utility-scale market.

One of the issues with the drive towards 1,500 V is the availability of 1,500 V modules, or modules that can handle the higher voltages. JA Solar’s (#43 in the array-changing technologies guide) 1,500 V module is assisting with the market adoption by increasing the number of module suppliers offering 1,500 V, because that was a bottleneck in itself. If there are not enough modules available capable of handling these voltages, then that could slow inverter suppliers’ own development of these larger inverters. Although you might make savings on the inverter and BOS side, on the flip side if the number of modules you install increases, it negates the savings benefits.

In your opinion, what kind of impact can some of these technologies have on their respective markets?

I think there are some individual micro improvements, but when taken collectively these products are sure to have a positive impact on their respective industries. The movement towards 1,500 volts in inverters, or using trackers rather than fixed tilt, and particularly on rooftops now we’re seeing ballast used to keep the mounting system secure, rather than penetrating the roof – this is a trend we see coming. What all of these innovations are aiming to do is aid faster installation, bring down O&M costs and increase yield. This is all leading to PV becoming more competitive in the longer term.

How much of a role can BOS components continue to play in delivering lower LCOE in the future??Cormac: Certainly for inverters, we’re still forecasting that prices will decrease by around 10% over the next five years. We are expecting the price decreases to be a little bit more aggressive this year, maybe in the teens – 15-20% – in certain segments, because there are a lot of suppliers still operating within the marketplace. However, even within this download you have outlined what we have been explaining for some time, which is that Asian suppliers have really begun to expand beyond their domestic markets. The two leading Chinese suppliers are featured, Sungrow (#4 in the array-changing technologies guide) and Huawei (#16) with their string inverters, which are aimed at the commercial and ground-mount market. These are significant suppliers in domestic markets and they are adding to price pressures across the international inverter landscape.

What further developmental and design processes are you seeing in the mounting systems industry? ?

Dow Corning’s adhesive (#29 in the array-changing technologies guide) is an interesting product, as a replacement for mounting rails. Although the trend is some time away, and this is very much a niche application at the moment, it certainly shows that significant global suppliers are looking at total system costs and are devising ways to lower BOS costs. That is their proposition – to lower upfront costs compared to the classic mounting systems that are on the market right now. This is where the market certainly needs to go. Where this is linked to is the overall aims that are driving innovation are faster installation times, which means that you can generate electricity faster. Quicker installation times also means lower labor costs – they are reasonably high in Europe right now – lower amount of motors means less upfront capital costs. This all feeds into lower maintenance costs. That is where the overall BOS market segment is heading.

U.S. dominance is reflective of the market, which is booming. There are still quite a number of pure play suppliers in the U.S., and it’s a reasonably fragmented market in some respects, particularly in the commercial rooftop area. Some of these ideas will spill into Europe over the next few months and years, and will lead to lower costs.

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