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Market trend analysis of photovoltaic inverters and prospects of the Internet of Things

Nov 20, 2020

Market trend analysis of photovoltaic inverters and prospects of the Internet of Things

With the approaching of parity on the Internet, cost reduction and efficiency enhancement and intelligent upgrades have become urgent needs of the photovoltaic industry. As a key device for photovoltaic power generation, inverters are constantly updated and iterated under the stimulation of favorable policies and become the "engine" that promotes the era of parity. . According to the latest forecast of IHS, in 2019 alone, more than 11 million photovoltaic inverters will be shipped to all parts of the world, most of which will be connected to the software platform and controlled by inverter companies. At the same time, the new development situation also puts forward higher requirements on the inverter's power level, voltage level, capacity ratio, overload capacity, etc., making the development of inverter technology and market enter a new stage.

So, driven by many trends such as distributed photovoltaics, household photovoltaics, photovoltaic energy storage, photovoltaic heating, unsubsidized projects, smart photovoltaics, etc., what new trends will appear in the inverter industry? What new shuffles and industries will occur Integration? How does the digital and intelligent upgrade of inverters bring about functional expansion? How do new trends lead to the re-integration of inverter technology routes? What new business opportunities and business models will these changes bring? Photovoltaic Toutiao/International The editor of Energy Network analyzed the seven major trends of inverter development, hoping to help readers learn and understand.

String inverters become mainstream


With the continuous maturity of technology and market development and changes, the global inverter market has shown a new development pattern. Affected by advantages such as more flexible system design, lower loss in the event of failure, and lower life-cycle maintenance costs, string inverters have been widely used worldwide, and shipments in 2017 exceeded those of centralized inverters for the first time Device. The GTM Research report shows that the total global shipments of three-phase string inverters in 2017 exceeded 46GW, a year-on-year increase of 49%, nearly 4GW higher than centralized inverters. String inverters surpassed centralized ones for the first time, and their share continues to increase.


In 2018, the photovoltaic inverter market is still dominated by centralized inverters and string inverters, while micro and distributed inverters account for a relatively small proportion. With the rapid growth of the distributed photovoltaic market and the increasing proportion of string inverters in centralized photovoltaic power stations, the market share of string inverters has reached 60.4%. Compared with the centralized inverter, the distributed photovoltaic inverter improves the MPPT control effect, and has a lower construction cost than the string inverter solution. Therefore, the market share is showing an upward trend year by year.


1500V becomes the mainstream of the industry


The authoritative research organization IHS Markit reports that the global 1500V photovoltaic power station scale will exceed 100GW in the next two years. Compared with the traditional 1000V system, the 1500V system has a higher voltage level and longer string length, which greatly reduces equipment costs, cable costs and construction costs. At the same time as the power generation increases, the system BOS cost per watt is reduced by at least about 5 It is the best choice for the design of photovoltaic projects in countries with no subsidies and low subsidies.


With the rise of 1500V systems in the global photovoltaic market, the shipments of 1500V inverters have taken advantage of the trend to "rising." The IHS report shows that in the global photovoltaic market excluding China in 2017, 40% of the three-phase inverter shipments were 1500V. In 2018, this proportion has increased to 62%, exceeding 1000V. IHS predicts that the share of 1500V three-phase inverters will continue to increase to 74% in 2019 and soar to 84% in 2020.


Digital and intelligent upgrade, aiming at intelligent IoT


In recent years, mainstream photovoltaic inverter suppliers at home and abroad have invariably targeted the field of intelligent IoT, successively developing new intelligent software technology platforms, and building digital services to create new sources of income.


The key function of the inverter is to convert solar energy into electricity so that the grid can be used. In the past, solar inverters were considered to be independent and dispersed and not connected to each other. However, in the new digital energy world, software platforms are unlocking once isolated and separated equipment components.


Many international solar inverter suppliers have developed their own proprietary internal IoT software platforms to sell solar energy, energy storage hardware and digital services to commercial chains, large utility companies and other non-traditional customers, and extend their business reach To thousands of independent owners.


AI technology will also gradually be integrated into photovoltaics, including intelligent IV technology that is now being successfully applied on a large scale. The photovoltaic system will take the inverter as the core, and its digitization and intelligence will continue to improve. While comprehensively improving power generation and operation and maintenance efficiency, it will build the ultimate platform for future integrated energy services.


Inverter extension function to hide core function


As photovoltaic inverters are moving towards digitalization and intelligence, more and more energy management functions will be added. One is the management function of photovoltaic energy storage. The importance of energy storage to the large-scale grid integration of new energy sources such as photovoltaics is self-evident. The application of the optical storage system further drives the evolution of inverters to power station energy management centers. The second is the safety management function. Inverters with added skills such as DC arc detection, rapid component shutdown and protection have evolved the safety protection of photovoltaic power stations from passive to active. The third is automatic monitoring and early warning operation and maintenance management functions. The fourth is household microgrid management function.


In addition to the functions of these energy management itself, more extension functions will be added. The first is a function similar to household appliances. For example, an LED light can be added to the housing of the inverter, which can be used as a light at night when the inverter is not working. Design the position of the LED lights into 12 points to form a circle, the inverter can also be used as a clock; using the data collection and transmission function of the inverter, and adding a camera, the inverter can become a network monitoring device ; Using the inverter's communication card, the inverter can also make calls. Future inverter = ordinary inverter + lighting + wall clock + network monitoring + telephone


Secondly, weather collection function can be added. At present, the coverage density of weather stations is not very large, and the collection accuracy is limited. Inverters can collect data such as temperature, sunlight intensity, humidity, wind speed, air quality, ultraviolet intensity, etc. The number of installations is thousands and tens of thousands of times that of weather stations. Providing the inverter data to the meteorological department can reduce costs on the one hand and increase data accuracy on the other.


Reconvergence of inverter technology routes


Traditionally, inverters have five major technical routes: centralized inverters, distributed inverters, string inverters, microgrids and power optimizers, and super-large inverters. With the intelligent upgrade of inverters and the development of diversified functions, the functions of inverters of different technical routes will be re-matched, and new functions will be added to meet the needs of the market, and new inverter types will be derived. Is an example.


The mainstream of inverters are centralized inverters and string inverters. The two methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. The centralized inverter has high power and has the advantage of single-stage electronic conversion, fewer components, and reliability. The shortcoming is that the length of the DC line is different. A 500kW inverter has a module installation area of more than 6000 square meters. The module may be more than 100 meters far away, but only a few meters recently. The line impedance affects the MPPT function. Just the opposite.


These two inverters can be combined together, that is, a unipolar string inverter. This inverter has only one-stage conversion DC-AC conversion, using three-level and power modules, and a 50kW inverter The converter has only 3 power switching devices. Like the centralized inverter, the installation area of the peripheral components of the 50kW inverter is about 600 square meters, the farthest distance is less than 25 meters, and the DC loss is very small. At present, single-pole string inverters are also available on the market, but they are not used in large power stations. The reason is that the output voltage is 400Vac, and the input voltage range is narrowed to only 580-850V, which limits the scope of application. This problem can be solved by a workaround. The output voltage can be changed to 315V. Like the centralized inverter, the input voltage range can reach 500-850V. A step-up transformer is connected at the back, and the application range is very wide.


Set string inverter = string shape + centralized inner core + power module + 315V


Photovoltaic inverter competition in overseas markets is becoming increasingly fierce


At the beginning of 2019, with the National Development and Reform Commission and the Energy Administration's decree on actively promoting the unsubsidized and parity of photovoltaic power generation, the prelude to parity in the domestic photovoltaic market has officially kicked off. At the same time, new energy sources in the United States, Europe, India, Latin America, and the Middle East have quickly entered a new stage of parity.


In this situation, in addition to increasing exports, mainland companies have begun to establish inverter production bases overseas. On July 27, Sungrow, the world’s leading manufacturer of inverters with a capacity of 3GW, was put into production in India; then, on August 27, a localized integrated service center was established in the United States. Shangneng Electric is also deploying in overseas markets. On August 22, Shangneng Electric announced that its 3GW capacity inverter manufacturing base was put into production in India. The commissioning of the Indian manufacturing base marks a new milestone in the business development of Shangneng Electric in India and the entire overseas market. In addition, Growatt, Jinlang, Goodway and INVT have also stepped up efforts to consolidate and expand their overseas presence. At the same time, brands such as Sanjing Electric, Shouhang New Energy and Moso Power began to seek new opportunities overseas.


At present, domestic inverter companies have gradually surpassed foreign countries in products, technologies and solutions, and even outperformed foreign countries. However, the European, American, and Australian markets have stabilized, and the development potential is not great, and the scale of emerging markets is currently limited. In this way, as domestic companies compete to open up overseas markets, competition is bound to intensify, and it may be difficult to avoid the survival of the fittest among domestic photovoltaic inverter companies.


New business opportunities and business models trigger industry integration and role transformation


The upgrade of inverter power, digital and intelligent upgrade, diversified expansion of functions, and re-aggregation of technical routes will bring new business opportunities and changes in business models.


As the brains of new energy systems, inverters can effectively control battery systems, electric vehicle charging, heating and cooling systems, etc., thereby helping owners and commercial customers reduce energy consumption. This opens the door to a new world for inverter companies and creates new business opportunities.


Home energy management systems bring after-sales revenue-generating opportunities for inverter suppliers. For example, they can provide energy-saving services, as well as monitoring and maintenance services. New sales opportunities may also expand. For example, they can sell aggregate storage products, provide on-demand response services and grid services.


In such a data-intensive environment, inverter companies need to change their business models. The availability of smart hardware devices can help companies launch IoT solutions. In the home, with smart inverters as the core, energy storage batteries, EV charging piles, and smart power distribution equipment form a complete power system for generating, storing, using, and maintaining energy to a great extent. Integrated home solutions combine solar energy installations with inverters, smart meters, energy storage and energy management systems. Inverter suppliers have become the center of the Internet of Things. They must ensure that customer relationships are lasting and reliable.


The evolution of business models will blur the competitive landscape and trigger new integrations in the industry chain. Previous competitors can suddenly become partners and even customers, and more traditional companies will join this field. Huawei may cooperate with other suppliers of solar inverters or smart meters to enable utilities to process more data and transmit data faster.


With the transformation of business models, the role of inverter suppliers is also changing, from a single product supplier to an overall solution service provider for the new energy ecosystem. In this process, with the rapid decline in inverter product prices and increasingly fierce competition, inverter companies such as Sungrow Power Supply, Kstar, and Easystar are all seeking innovations, such as building digital management platforms and introducing enhanced families. Energy management system, integrated battery storage technology, etc.