Homing in on residential solar

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Since entering the PV inverter market in 2013, Huawei has more than proven its ability to grow quickly into a major presence, pushing prices down and driving the adoption of new technologies. Already the leader in global inverter shipments for the utility-scale segment by most analyst estimations, Huawei also offers products for the rapidly growing commercial and industrial space, and is now beefing up its presence in the residential sector.

“We have enjoyed a lot of success in the commercial rooftop markets of Europe, Japan, the U.S., China, and the APAC region,” a Huawei spokesperson told pv magazine at the launch of the company’s first residential offerings in 2017. “So, as requested by our customers, and driven by the development strategy of Huawei itself, we will expand our product portfolio to residential markets. This will be an important year for us to have a global launch of residential products in Europe, Australia, China, and the U.S.”

Huawei states that now is the right time for it to move into the residential PV market, thanks to its accumulated experience and proven technology in commercial solar projects, as well as steady market performance and mature channels. According to Huawei’s spokesperson, the company’s goal for residential PV is “to realize the visualization of energy management, and to build a new, fully digitized home energy system.”

Integrated system

Key to Huawei’s strategy in residential PV is the focus on building a digitized energy system, and integrating all aspects of home energy – PV power  generation, storage, consumption, and system maintenance – into one management system. “Huawei is a new entrant, but we are an innovator,” continues the company spokesperson. “We innovate and develop PV technology to be the highest efficiency and the most intelligent. The goal is to open roads to a digital PV world: to bring digitization to every PV enterprise. Huawei will assist home energy management’s transition to a new era.”

The residential offering from Huawei also aims to focus on the customer, beginning with housing the product in a sleek, smoothly edged white box that would not look out of place in any modern home. The inverter is also ‘storage ready’ for those homeowners who want to add a battery; or want to have this functionality available for the future.

Like all of Huawei’s PV solutions, the residential inverter communicates with users via the FusionHome-NetEco 1000S PV management system, allowing homeowners to quickly and simply monitor their PV system’s performance and their energy production. This system allows for easy access via smartphone, with detailed energy yield reports, up to 20 years of data storage, and the option to receive fault alarms via email.

“Managing solar PV, storage, and consumption at home is a different challenge for us. This is why the new inverter is presented as part of our FusionHome Smart Energy Management System,” the Huawei spokesperson adds. “Huawei’s residential solutions focus more on what people feel and think, to provide the best experience of a home energy system.

Huawei is also rolling out optimizers as part of its residential package, which can help to counter the effects of shading by isolating the effects to just one module, rather than the whole system. They also allow for modules to be installed facing in different directions. Huawei’s smart PV optimizer can be mounted to the frame in the warehouse for easy installation, is waterproof (IP68) for outdoor installation, and allows for rapid module voltage shutdown – an important feature given safety regulations for residential PV systems in leading markets including the U.S.

Key markets

After the launch of residential products last year, Huawei initially maintained its focus on China and European markets. This year, however, launches are planned for other major residential markets, beginning with the U.S.: Huawei has announced a partnership in the U.S. with monitoring and data analytics firm Locus Energy – which will allow it to leverage data centers and other infrastructure within the country.

“Huawei’s FusionHome Smart Energy Solution is an important addition to the U.S. residential solar market,” said Locus Energy President Michael Herzig. “We are very excited to partner with Huawei on this initiative, and provide their customers with our monitoring platform, including our unique analytics offerings to help ensure system output is optimized.”

China’s interest in residential and distributed solar grew substantially in 2017, and this may also have been advantageous to Huawei’s plans. “In China, one of the interesting things is that the residential market is starting to take off: That was a key driver for many residential inverter suppliers in 2017,” explains Cormac Gilligan, Research Manager Solar and Energy Storage at IHS Markit. “What that means is that they will have achieved volumes in the hundreds of megawatts range – approaching 1 GW in some cases. That will give them a nice cushion to internationalize. With a player such as Huawei, they can just pick out all the data, and look at where the big residential markets are.”

Changing tack

It is also important to note that operating in the residential sector requires very different methods of doing business in comparison to utility projects, where Huawei has already made a name for itself. “It’s a different customer base – you’re dealing more with distributors and installers, and thousands of systems,” explains Gilligan. “In these markets for residential you need to partner with big distributors – it can be very fragmented. Huawei, in terms of strategy, is going after what are perceived to be some of the big markets – Germany, Australia, the U.S., China.”

As Huawei moves into competition with established players in the residential sector, the company’s experience in consumer electronics could help it to gain an advantage. “Residential is almost like B2C, it’s more hands on than utilityscale,” adds Gilligan. “There is a higher quantity of customers to deal with, you need more people for sales, service, and installation, etc. Through its sister divisions in smartphone and telecoms, Huawei has a history in high volume customer-based approaches that it will be able to leverage. So far it’s early days, but they will have very aggressive targets.”