Price Pressure Will Squeeze Solar Inverter Revenues

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James Montgomery


SMA Solar inverter photo by Claus Ableiter

In a new report, IHS says worldwide solar inverter unit shipments will rise 7 percent this year, but PV inverter revenues are heading the opposite way, a 9 percent decline this year to $6.4 billion, worse than the firm’s earlier prediction of a 5 percent drop. (2014 will see a 9 percent rebound in revenues back to around $7.0 billion, while shipments will surge 19 percent to more than 41 GW.) That’s because overall inverter prices are sinking fast, sliding to $0.18/W this year vs. $0.22/W in 2012. It’s especially painful for big utility-scale projects; IHS says these will make up a third of global demand this year, up from 29 percent last year, but global prices for large central inverters will decrease 16 percent to $0.12/W.

One reason for the divergence is that solar PV technologies further up the supply chain  silicon, cells, and modules  have been bearing the brunt of the market’s relentless cost-cutting demands, but now those pressures are moving further down the chain into the balance-of-system technologies, explained Cormac Gilligan, senior PV market analyst at IHS. Meanwhile, some of the larger established solar markets, especially in Europe, are slowing down dramatically, so an increasingly crowded market of inverter suppliers is fighting for less business. Favorite markets such as Germany and Italy also are reducing or eliminating subsidies, he pointed out, so project developers are submitting tenders at rock-bottom prices to win the business, which means they’ll have to squeeze out even more costs.

Ironically, some of the emerging global solar markets are also ones where utility-scale solar is taking off, such as China, India, South America, and South Africa  and it’s in these markets where pricing pressure can be most severe, with inverter prices as low as $0.06/W in China, India, and Thailand, IHS noted.

Gilligan said that makers of central inverters are trying to answer the market pressures by offering features that translate to some savings on the operations and maintenance side, such as higher input voltages (>1,000 V) and liquid cooling. Some inverter companies also are broadening their portfolios to include smaller three-phase inverters targeting more commercial-scale opportunities. China’s still a relatively unique case where several domestic utility-scale inverter companies have held their turf, and western inverter suppliers are trying to get into the market, creating massive price pressure.

However, price pressures also are being felt for smaller three-phase inverters (20-35 kW) in utility and commercial applications, Gilligan pointed out. Some European markets will see prices for those lower-power inverters sinking 20 percent to $0.14/W. This is a growing sector in the U.S. for these types of inverters, he noted, predicting more than 200 MW of shipments this year, and pricing is still relatively higher than in Europe. But there’s increasing competition too (he pointed to SMA Solar (SMTGF) and Power-One (PWER)) so look for prices to start declining as they have in Europe.

Jim Montgomery is Associate Editor for RenewableEnergyWorld.com, covering the solar and wind beats. He previously was news editor for Solid State Technology and Photovoltaics World, and has covered semiconductor manufacturing and related industries, renewable energy and industrial lasers since 2003. His work has earned both internal awards and an Azbee Award from the American Society of Business Press Editors. Jim has 15 years of experience in producing websites and e-Newsletters in various technology.

This article was first published on RenewableEnergyWorld.com, and is reprinted with permission.

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