Japanese Solar Inverters
While Japanese solar panel companies are sweating due to cheap Asian solar panel imports, the solar inverter companies in Japan are facing the happy problem of supply shortages. The reason is that the Japan requires that PV inverters be certified by Japan Electrical Safety & Environment Technology Laboratories (JET). Most of the big global solar inverter companies lack this, which means that the local companies have a massive advantage. The Japanese solar market is set to boom due to very generous subsidies set by the Government which would imply returns of around 30%. While global solar panel majors are salivating at the prospect of the huge growth, solar inverter companies face a big barrier in the form of the JET certification.
Japan after the Fukushima disaster had set out on a plan to increase the share of renewable energy in the electricity mix which is abysmally low. Japan has very low capacity in wind and solar energy compared to the more environmentally conscious developed countries like Germany. Japan which had led the solar market in the period till 2005 abruptly stopped its support. Though that time period had led to the birth of the Japanese solar industry (which is second to the Chinese even today), the industry had faltered as domestic demand went into decline. While large scale solar installations in Japan are almost absent, there remain large numbers of rooftop solar installations.
However with the setting of a crazily high Feed in Tariff of 52c/KwH, solar demand is set to increase exponentially in Japan. Note Japan is already one of the biggest markets globally and has a large solar manufacturing industry. This is ideal grounds for a subsidy led solar boom like what happened in Spain in 2008 and Czech in 2010 with pernicious results. Japanese solar companies like Sharp, Solar Frontier, Mitsubishi will benefit the most. This is despite their much higher solar panel costs and prices compared to the global leaders like Trina. The reason is because of implicit barriers that Japan erects. Non-Japanese companies like First Solar, Sunpower have not been able to penetrate the Japanese market in a significant way because of these implicit hurdles. Note this is common to other markets and industries as well like LCD, computers, mobiles, rice etc.
Read more with a tutorial on PV inverters
Photovoltaic Inverter or Solar Inverters as they are better known as, have become one of the fastest growing segment in power electronics. The ~$2.1 billion market in 2009 with 7 GW of installations has increased by more than 130% to around $5 billion in 2010, as the solar panel demand globally increased to around 17 GW. Note Solar Inverter Companies have done much better as competition is much lower and the annual price declines in solar inverters has been much lower at around 10% compared to the 50% decline in solar panel in the last 2-3 years. Photovoltaic inverters are not being manufactured by hundreds of suppliers around the world though the top 5 solar inverter manufacturers control almost 75-80% of the market. The reason is that solar inverters have a high technology barrier when it comes to making highly efficient and reliable solar inverters.
Till now Chinese manufacturers have not been able to significantly penetrate the solar inverter market because of this. In comparison Chinese solar module producers have captured more than 50% of the global solar market through cutthroat price and cost cutting leading Western solar panel producers like Solarworld to try and get dumping duties imposed on them. SMA Solar is the world’s biggest Photovoltaic Inverter manufacturer and is closely followed by US based Power One.
Types of Photovoltaic Inverters
- Stand-alone Solar Inverters – They are used in systems without a connection to the power grid. Inverter draws Energy from Solar Energy. Many stand-alone inverters have attached batteries. These are mainly used in off grid application and in residential/commercial applications where there is no net metering available.
- Grid Tied Solar Inverters – Many solar inverters are designed to be connected to a utility grid, and will not operate when they do not detect the presence of the grid. They contain special circuitry to precisely match the voltage and frequency of the grid. Grid-tie inverters are designed to shut down automatically upon loss of utility supply, for safety reasons. They do not provide backup power during utility outages. These are higher priced than standalone and require special laws to be used. They are always used in solar power plants connected to the grid.
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