R&D is core to any solar inverter business. What type of investment is TBEA making in this regard to ensure that you remain competitive?
TBEA invested a total of CNY 230 million to build the largest high-power electronic product development laboratory in northwest China. The laboratory occupies 6,800 meters square and has a technical team of 260 people, including academics, national scholars, senior engineers, etc. Doctorate scholars account for more than 12% of the entire team, and our masters’ ratio on staff reaches more than 70%. The company has invested 4% of annual sales income as R&D funds for new products and technology.
What are the biggest innovations that have come out of TBEA’S R&D efforts?
Major breakthroughs were made in key equipment and technologies such as grid-connected inverters, static reactive power generators, and flexible DC products. The company successfully developed the world’s first ± 800kV UHV flexible DC converter. Around the new energy system of ‘IoT + the integration of wind, solar, storage, and transportation + multi-energy complementation + smart energy platform,’ TBEA is promoting a ‘Variable Electrical Green Energy Full Ecological Chain Application Solution’ in multiple application scenarios, multi-technology scenarios, and multi-operation scenarios. The company is focused on smart products such as inverters, SVG, electrical energy routers, etc. and we are providing services such as TB-eCloud smart energy management platform and smart microgrid solutions.
TBEA became famous for its high-voltage transformer as its fundamental product. How has the company evolved with today’s inverter business?
We have more than 10 years’ experience in R&D and production of inverters. Through years of effort, we have achieved technical breakthroughs of pivotal equipment and inverter technologies, static VAR generators (SVG), and microgrid products. The company has undertaken a number of Chinese major science and technology projects, which has supported the evolution of renewable energy. Since its establishment in 2000, our company has successfully won a series of acclamations, including the United Nations’ special award for technological innovation, among many others.
Your 1,500 V inverter has become a mainstream product, with higher requirements placed on the capacity ratio and overload capacity. What has made it so successful?
For international markets, TBEA launched system solutions based on the 1,500 V high-voltage string inverters. Compared with other products, this one has a more concise system structure. There is no AC combiner box, and AC cables are reduced to save costs. The inverter has outstanding technical characteristics – including a high capacity ratio, grid-friendly connection, safety and reliability, and smart O&M capabilities.
With higher voltage, higher power, higher capacity ratio, larger sub-arrays and active safety technology, the application reduces overall LCOE by more than 7%. This new generation of high-voltage string inverters, with power as high as 208 kW, is one of the industry’s highest-level string inverter models. And with its fair price, the model is a powerful weapon for a grid parity system.
What is the process for developing new technologies?
TBEA Sunoasis has established a market-oriented integrated product development (IPD) process. It clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the new product development team, product development stages and tasks, and key review points and their relationships. It also ensures the accurate selection of products, shortens product development cycles, and reduces R&D costs. The IPD process consists of five steps: concept, planning, development, verification, and launch. The project team members include cross-functional personnel including marketing, finance, R&D, production, and after-sales service. The team is responsible for the entire control process of product development from project establishment to market launch. Meanwhile, a management matrix was established to empower project managers with the ability to coordinate between different departments, and to improve the performance assessment of the project team and R&D efficiency. With maturity and improved business capabilities working in conjunction with the current IPD process implementation, we are set for implementing TBEA’s future plans. Currently, our company is concentrating on the existing product development process, manufacturing, procurement, after-sales service, logistics, quality control, and other business processes, in order to improve the ability of product development, quality management, product delivery, and risk control.
What smart technologies does TBEA offer to support intelligent O&M?
We developed the TB-eCloud operations and maintenance (O&M) platform, which is based on IoT technology. Through a 5G communication protocol, it can maximize data transmission and accuracy with AI-supported data mining and analysis and is accompanied by a hybrid cloud computing architecture. The platform provides an opportunity for expansion, can reduce failure rates, and improve the overall revenues for power stations. With more than 5 GW of TBEA photovoltaic and wind power plants utilizing this platform for daily O&M, we see this smart technology increasing power output by 3% and reducing the frequency of on-site inspections and the total O&M cost – average profit margins are increased by 1% with our solution.
The energy sector is quickly evolving with an uptake in smart microgrids. What has TBEA’s role been in this space?
TBEA invented the world’s first advanced power router. This power router can integrate different aspects of a micro-grid, connect and distribute power among the grid, power source, power load, and power storage. It can be widely utilized with renewable energy, electric vehicle charging stations, energy storage power stations, etc.
To create a smart microgrid solution, TBEA takes the power router as the core product, surrounded with an energy management system, central controller, energy storage system, and other key products. Our solution is suitable for different scenarios including industrial and commercial zoned projects, data centers, islanded systems, and districts without power supply, and so on.
Looking ahead, what are the technological innovations on the forefront for the industry and how is TBEA adapting?
With the increasing proportion of solar PV in the mix, and the diversification of power generation scenarios, PV inverters will shift from passive devices to active devices in a comprehensive manner towards digitalization and intelligence – extending to smart O&M, solar+storage, grid support, and active safety.
The PV system has already changed with voltages moving from 1,000 to 1,500 – and will be higher in future. Inverters will change to support the grid, rather than adapting to it. Highly integrated designs of inverters, transformers, and switch cabinets will provide for strong active safety. Based on big data, cloud computing, and AI technology, our TB-eCloud platform will provide customers with a digitalized, intelligent full lifecycle power plant operational solution to effectively increase power generation, improve O&M efficiency, and reduce electricity costs.
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