SMA clings to global inverter top spot, but Chinese rivals closing, says IHS

Germany’s SMA, which today published encouraging first quarter financial results, has maintained its position at the top of the IHS Global PV Inverter Market ranking, securing a 14% share of global inverter revenue in 2015.

This performance marked the first time in five years that the once-dominant German company managed to arrest a slide in its revenue share. SMA had 14% revenue share in 2014, and that was also enough last year to see off the challenge of some of China’s largest players.

Buoyed by strong domestic demand in China, ICT giant Huawei and pure-play inverter company Sungrow both enjoyed a strong year in 2015, with the former topping the global table in terms of MW shipments, while claiming 9% of global revenue – enough for second place on the ranking.

However, due to lower average selling prices (ASPs) for inverters in China, Huawei’s revenues were not able to top SMA’s. With domestic demand in China forecast to slow this year due to grid-connection, curtailment and incentive issues, leading Chinese solar inverter suppliers are looking to diversify into foreign markets – many of which are more profitable.

IHS said that Chinese suppliers are gaining acceptance in international markets and in 2015, for the first time ever, but Sungrow and Huawei topped 1 GW of inverter exports.

For Sungrow, third place was secured in terms of global revenue, and the company was ranked as the largest three-phase, high-power inverter supplier last year for the third year running. It was also the largest PV exporter from China in 2015.

US booms, Japan steady

The U.S. market has proven a profitable playground for a number of inverter players, not least SMA and Israeli power optimizer and inverter specialist, SolarEdge.

"A major contributor to SMA’s improved performance was its large market share in the U.S. and other high-growth utility-scale markets," said Cormac Gilligan, research manager of IHS Technology. SolarEdge’s milestone – climbing 3% to reach 6% of global revenue in 2015 – "was largely aided by its success in winning over major customers in U.S. residential and small commercial markets," Gilligan added.

Japan’s Omron was the leading single-phase inverter supplier in terms of MW shipments for the third year in a row – a performance almost exclusively based on its dominance of the strong Japanese market. However, Gilligan stressed that as Japan’s residential market begins its expected contraction, "Omron and other Japanese manufacturers are becoming increasingly focused on expanding into new international markets in order to safeguard against further market share declines."

At utility scale, IHS believes that the likes of TMEIC, Schneider Electric, ABB, GE and others could eat into SMA’s dominance in certain new markets by offering compatible central inverters with 1,500 volt technology.

"In the solar world, bankability and a wide geographical footprint are increasingly important," concluded Gilligan. "These types of suppliers can provide both."