Solar Power World (SPW) asked Nohra Nasr, Bonfiglioli’s Solar Business Unit Leader, North America, to tell us about what role inverters play in today’s solar market and where the next big breakthrough will come. Here’s what else he said:
SPW: What is the biggest change in the inverter industry in the past 12 months?
NN: The adoption of utility-scale PV power plants by independent power producers and utilities has called for larger and scalable utility-grade inverter ratings. Currently, 2MW to 2.5MW inverter skid sizes have become the standard size range to fit the magnitude of power plant scale which contributes to the cost reduction of the balance of plant. The industry has also seen the evolution of electrical standards and the accelerated acceptance of 1000VDC systems which results in further cost reductions and improved efficiency. A third biggest change would be the revised interconnection standards in the industry to address the higher grid penetration level (such as CA CPUC Rule 21 and IEEE 1547-A).
SPW: What are the biggest obstacles you see that the inverter market has to overcome?
NN: Further pressure for cost reduction. It will be a continuous challenge for certain inverter manufacturers to reduce the operation costs of manufacturing their inverter systems (including the medium-voltage transformer) in conjunction with the steep price reductions of panels, trackers, and other components of the BOS in order to contribute to reaching the magic “grid- parity” system pricing structure. Not many inverter manufacturers will manage to optimize their costs and pricing structure.
There will be tougher rules and calls by Utilities and grid independent system operators (ISOs) for more intelligent functions in the inverter to support the grid management (voltage and frequency ride-through, volt-VAR Control, active ramp rate, etc.)
Inverter manufacturers who accelerate their research to develop the most innovative and practical cutting-edge technology which fits the needs of Utilities – yet affordable – will survive obsolescence (e.g.,seamless technology integration of inverters and battery storage to overcome intermittancy and accommodate for load shifting).
Finally, utility-scale and large commercial projects will soon (in a matter of 2 to 3 years) capture majority share of the solar PV market. Most of these projects arefunded by financial institutions, large investors, and banks whichstarted to scrutinize equipment suppliers and follow due diligence on the bankability practice of inverter manufacturers (inverter technology, performance, reliability, financial health, diversification, and longevity of the manufacturer). Some shake-ups and consolidations will take place this year through the next couple years.
SPW: What role do you see inverters playing in the market?
Inverters will play the most important role in the BOP because utilities’ reliance on the reliability and smart features of the inverters.It is critical for inverters to meet the utilities’ demand for smarter grid support functions in order to maintain the stability and quality of the grid.
SPW: If there was one breakthrough for inverters that you’d like to see happen, what would it be?
NN: In terms of array design flexibility and maximizing energy harvest, the industry has already developed modular multi-MPPT inverter systems integrated with power optimizers.This is coupled with offering high power platforms to match the demand for larger power plants along with all the smart grid management functions. The breakthrough will happen when cost effective energy storage will be integrated into such inverters in order to smooth out the intermittancy in the field.