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Enphase says Australia could become second biggest market

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US group Enphase Energy – the world’s biggest supplier of micro-inverters – says Australia could become its second biggest market (behind the US) if policy settings remain favourable.

Paul Nahi, the CEO of the California-based Enphase Energy, visited Australia this week following the recent opening of offices in Melbourne and Sydney, and the establishment a corporate base in Australia for the Asia-Pacific.

“Despite the huge growth and value of the solar market, which is about $150 billion plus, solar is still very, very small compared to total energy generation. We are still just at the early days in solar, we are just starting,” he told RenewEconomy in an interview.

“The economics are … getting better; the cost of fossil fuel energy is continuing to go up; the cost of solar is coming down because of reduced costs and increasing efficiencies, and there is still a lot of head-room to improve it.

“That is why I think those countries that in any way restrict solar would be on the wrong side of history. Right now, governments have opportunity to own this space, create centres of excellence, and to become leaders.

“Clearly Australia has a strong rooftop market, and strong solar infrastructure. We very very excited about the possibilities here.

Inverters are an essential part of a rooftop solar system, converting the electricity generated from the solar modules from DC (direct current), back to form suitable for the grid. Micro-inverters are different to string inverters because they attach to a single panel, and can lift the output of a solar array.

(With string inverters, if the output of one panel is reduced by shading, dust or another obstruction, then the output of the whole array is affected. Micro-inverters are also easier to install).

Micro-inverters now capture nearly 50 per cent of the rooftop solar market in the US and Enphase are credited with a 73 per cent share of the global micro-inverter market.

Australia has already installed more than 3.1GW of rooftop solar on homes across the country, although the number with micro-inverters remains small, at less than 5 per cent of installations.

Nahi thinks that will change as customers focus more on return on investment from their solar installations, rather than just relying on subsidies as they had in the past.

“Clearly Australia has a strong rooftop market, and strong solar infrastructure. We very very excited about the possibilities here, and using it as a base for our business in the Asia-Pacific.

“There are not many residential markets that are as large as Australia.”

Nahi notes that the controversy around energy policy in Australia, and the uncertainty about renewable incentives is not unusual, because energy policy is highly polarizing in most markets around the globe.

“What we see going on in Australia, the effect on (the price of) renewable energy certificates is not that unusual,’ he said.

“If were to only enter market that had predictable and stable policies for the next 10 years, we wouldn’t be in business.

“But clearly what we want to see is a policy that is supportive of the 18,000 plus employees in the solar industry in Australia, and which  enables Australia to be centre of excellence for the Asia Pacific region.

“What the industry would want is for solar incentives to act as a catalyst, not a crutch. That means a quantifiable, predictable, decrease over a period of years. If that is done intelligently, then we can wean the industry off subsidies altogether.”

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  • Pedro

    A good quality micro inverter system is definitely going to displace string inverters once the end users realise the many advantages, built in redundancy, design flexibility, system monitoring, and safety to name a few. Comparing micro’s to string inverters is like comparing a smart phone to a landline.

    • Sean Sweetser

      You’re joking right. I work in the solar industry and take an unbiased view on string versus mirco inverters because I would supply whatever is better for my customer.

      I think you must work for a micro inverter supplier because your key benefits don’t seem that strong to me. A better comparison would be a smart phone to a tablet when using them for mobile communications. One is more expensive and doesn’t have a better outcome for intended job other than in certain circumstance.

      Built-in redundancy- You have to get up on the roof to replace a broken down micro inverter and they are the most common component of a system to break down. A string inverter can be swapped out much easier.

      Design flexibility. Really? 2 panels per inverter as opposed to 6? Can’t be that hard with 1 million rooftops with 98%+ string inverters. There may be a few roofs where they are handy, niche market value.

      system monitoring. Really? if you have ever seen one post installation their system monitoring isn’t that accurate. Also you can system monitor with any inverter. Even with an expensive wireless total consumption and generation monitor, which is much more accurate when using hi quality induction clamp.

      Cons
      Cost, they add cost of approximately 30% to a system.

      According to NREL they only generate more in heavily shaded conditions.
      http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/54876.pdf

      Heat. The reason why they dont perform better in the real world, aside from micro inverter manufacturers marketing, is it gets hot on the roof under panels. The hotter it gets the lower the efficiency of the inverter. The hotter the country – ie Australia – the worse micros will perform.

      Cost to install. All the marketing and people selling Micros tell you they are cheaper to install. Well the people installing them think they are more work.

      Sorry to get all riled up. But the totally on sided spin set me off. I do see a place for micro inverters. But it is niche.

      • Pedro

        Hi Sean

        Thanks for your comments and you have made some very valid points. I do posts on this website regularly and have disclosed previously that I work in RE sector which I should have mentioned, my apologies. To be specific I was an off grid PV installer and have moved into wholesaling of PV related gear, panels, batteries, inverters etc.

        Like you I was very sceptical about micro’s until very recently. I thought that micro’s would only be viable on nasty small roof sizes which had shading issues where the end customer absolutely wanted solar regardless of the less than ideal performance.

        As you would be aware there can be vast differences in quality/reliability between string inverter brands. I personally have a well know german branded string inverter at my home and it works very well with my non shaded north facing panels. If it breaks downs outside of warranty I wouldnt hesitate to replace using a quality micro inverter.

        The huge advantage of micro’s over a string inverter system is that each panel performs independantly of the rest. With a string inverter current is limited to the poorest perfoming panel in a string. This can happen for a number of reasons and the most common in my opinion is uneven soiling (bird droppings) and most panels have a plus or minus 2-3% output tolerance. So already on a string system you are already down 1-2% for a new system.

        Also in most cases the FIT is quite low in Australia and so the incentive is to self consume as much pv power as possible. With micro’s you can have panels facing 3 different directions if you want, effectively lengthening and flatening power output across the day and there by increasing self consumption.

        As for the issue of redundancy, if one micro breaks down then you still have the rest working and because it is monitored the end customer is informed very quickly and the installer knows exactly which one to replace. You are right that it is more time consuming to replace a faulty micro than a faulty string inverter. I know from working in the industry that there are quite a few poorer quality string inverters with significant failure rates (tends to happen in the summer when its hot) and in many cases the first time the end user finds out is when they get a huge power bill.

        I bought up the issue of heat as well and on a 40 degree day panels can get up to 70 degrees. This is hard to answer without getting brand specific and technical, however as the article mentions Enphase who have significant market share in north America there are many regions in the USA that would have similar hot climate to Australia and those heat issues have been encounted and overcome. My string inverter gets too hot to touch on a 40 degree day when its output is maxing. A micro is typically under the panel arguably in the shade with potentially more airflow. Heat dissappation is largely a factor of surface area and if you compare the size of the heat sink on a micro compared to a sting inverter/watt you would find the heat sinks on the micro’s significantly bigger and therefore more able to dissapate heat

        Feed back from installers of micro’s has been varied. Some micro’s have been a nightmare. And other installers have informed me there is more work with the first few installs while they get their head around a new system and the comms.

        I have tried to keep my answers general but if you want more technical and specific answers ask Giles to pass on my email.

        • Synthesis

          Ha Ha. You work in the RE industry and installed modules on the north side. Please let me know your company name so I do not hire them.

          • Pedro

            I live in the southern hemisphere. The sun is in the north for us so we mount our panels mostly on north facing roofs.

  • RhysC

    Im not sold either to tell the truth. Although they do have 25 year warranties in most cases. I usually take a 10 year inverter replacement cost into account for string inverters so I suppose micro inverters make sense there. But on the other hand it could be a nightmare to have to come back every 6 months to replace 1 of 10 micro inverters on a roof!