String inverters on the rise

The solar industry has witnessed the vertiginous rise of the string inverter in recent years, primarily driven by the innovative string inverter solutions being offered by Chinese ICT company Huawei. It is no surprise, then, that the string inverter was on the agenda at Huawei’s FusionSolar Conference in Lyon, France, where the general outlook for its inverter technology was very positive.

The event, attended by pv magazine, was in part a celebration of the company’s prompt success in the solar inverter market, after entering the industry just three years ago, and now leading the way in terms of capacity shipments. But it was also an opportunity to adequately present its new string inverter offerings to the European market and its chief players.

A budding market with growing opportunities

One of the standout presentations of the conference was delivered by IHS Markit analyst Sam Wilkinson, who gave IHS’s projections for the solar market in general, and the string inverter market, specifically.

Interestingly, IHS is forecasting there to be 300 GW of installed utility-scale solar by 2020, which will be driven by installations from China, the US, and India. Of course, these predictions were made before the two pieces of dramatic news for the industry last week, which saw China cut its solar installation target by 20%, and then Donald Trump being elected as the next president of the U.S., which could have dire consequences for the solar industry within the country.

Presuming that these events won’t be too damaging to the global solar market, the good news for string inverter manufacturers is that the technology’s market share is growing, with it expected to make up 25% of the total installed utility-scale PV for 2016. This is only likely to grow, as Wilkinson’s presentation showed comparative data from surveys in 2014 and 2015, which showed installers and EPCs are now more likely to opt for string inverters than they had previously been for utility-scale installations.

The reasons that installers are choosing string inverters instead of central inverters are predominantly five-fold: fast replacement of components; quick trouble shooting; reduced maintenance; best performance from modules; and simplified system design. To add to this, we are now seeing higher power and higher voltage string inverters, which means that the number of inverters needed for utility-scale installations is set to reduce, which will save installers money and time.

Who’s leading the way

With the market set to take off, it is clear that Huawei is best-positioned to take advantage of the growing string inverter trend. Further IHS data, provided at the event, showed that Huawei is by far the largest string inverter supplier, making up an impressive 47% of the market – in regards to MW capacity – with its closest competitor SMA with just 9% of the market, then Sungrow in third with 7%.

There are a number of factors for Huawei’s sudden success in the solar industry. Importantly, the company is spending a huge amount of money on research and development, which is guaranteeing that it’s products remain top of the line and ahead of the curve. But also, it can’t be ignored that the company has established itself as a major ICT player outside of the solar market, which means that it is not solely reliant on revenues from the solar industry, and it has extensive experience making strong business connections, as was clear from the event, with European companies Green Energy 3000, Kilowattsol, and Amarenco speaking very highly of their business relations with Huawei.

Before the event was finished, there was time for pv magazine to visit the 12 MW Vouzance PV plant a couple of hours outside of Lyon, to see some Huawei string inverters working in tandem with SolarWorld modules. The plant was developed by Green Energy 3000, who were there to show visitors just how effective Huawei’s string inverters were for guaranteeing the highest yields and quick maintenance response. And these inverters weren’t even from Huawei’s most recent string inverter series, which are due to enter the European market soon.