1500-volt systems to account for 9% of utility-scale PV installations in 2016

GTM Research has released a new report which predicts that 4.6 GW of 1500-volt utility-scale PV systems will be installed this year, as a breakout year for the technology.

The report finds that while raising DC voltage to 1500 volts can increase the cost of individual components as much as 40%, that it typically reduces overall system costs. “The value proposition at this point is clear,” GTM Research Solar Analyst and report lead author Scott Moskowitz told pv magazine.

Moskowitz notes that compared to 1000-volt systems, 1500-volt systems use 50% fewer combiner boxes, fewer and larger inverters and less electrical hardware overall. He says that these systems also reduce installation labor, with fewer trenches needing to be dug.

In May GTM Research estimated that cost savings for 1500 volt systems averaged $0.05 per watt, however, Moskowitz is quick to clarify that averages can be misleading, as there are great variations from system to system on the basis of geography and other factors.

He also says that much of the higher costs of balance-of-systems (BOS) components is due to a still-nascent market, and he expects the cost savings to be even greater when economies of scale are achieved.

Components for 1500-volt systems can be an issue at present. GTM Research says that modules and inverters have been the least available components. And while many of the world’s largest PV module and inverter makers – including top names such as Trina Solar, First Solar, Canadian Solar, SMA and Sungrow – have introduced 1500-volt products, not all of these are commercially available at this time.

“Many of the companies that have introduced products are still in the process of bringing them to the market,” notes Moskowitz.

The report focused on the utility-scale segment, which Moskowitz says will be the leading segment for 1500-volt systems. Additionally, GTM Research predicts that the United States will lead on near-term adoption of 1500-volt architecture, but that the Asia-Pacific region will represent the biggest markets to 2020.

In the United States the utility-scale market will remain the sole market for 1500-volt designs, at least for the near future. The National Electrical Code forbids 1500-volt installations on rooftops, and this limitation is included in the 2017 version of the code.

Moskowitz calls 2016 a “stepping stone” for 1500-volt systems, and expects that they will soon come to dominate the sector. “We expect that it will be the default for utility-scale systems worldwide within a few years,” he predicts.