How a US-based solar inverter producer stays robust in a troublesome market – Solar Energy World
In the cutthroat solar inverter market, manufacturers must differentiate themselves from competitors to survive. According to a report by Wood Mackenzie, total sales of the world's top five inverter manufacturers declined 10% last year due to price pressures and tough competition. In 2019 alone there were numerous acquisitions and exits: ABB paid Fimer to take over the inverter business, Schneider Electric left the inverter business on a supply scale and KACO sold its business with string and central inverters to Siemens and OCI Power. US-based inverter maker Yaskawa Solectria Solar believes it has the local customer service and forward-thinking leadership it takes to stay in the market.
Solectria is one of only three major solar electronics companies that manufacture exclusively in the USA. Others include micro-inverter maker Chilicon Power, power optimizer maker Alencon Systems, and hybrid inverter maker Pika Energy (which was recently acquired by another US company, Generac). Solectria uses some global parts in its inverters but assembles its products in the USA. The new inverters will be manufactured at Yaskawa America's facilities in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, while combiners and older inverter models will be manufactured in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
The company was the brainchild of MIT graduate James Worden, who decided in 2005 to enter the rapidly growing solar industry.
"Things went from a small business to a slightly bigger business, and he never thought about doing anything other than building it with his own hands and under his own watchful eye," said Miles Russell, director of product management at Solectria.
In 2014, this slightly larger store wasn't big enough to keep up with the pace of technological advancement in the industry. Therefore, a deal was made for Yaskawa America (which is 100% owned by Yaskawa Electric of Japan) to acquire Solectria and create the new brand.
"Really what brought them to this native company here in Massachusetts was world-class manufacturing and the absolute focus on high-quality engineering talent that they brought to the engineering teams here," said Russell.
Solectria's engineering team works with solar site designers at the beginning of the process to ensure that projects created using the company's inverters are optimized.
EDF Renewables Distributed Solutions, based in Maryland, is developing many 5 MWAC or smaller projects across New England that are typically located on land separated by wetlands rather than traditional, flat, rectangular plots. Jamie Resor, CEO of Distributed Solutions, said that string inverters like Solectria make a lot of sense for this type of project. According to Resor, EDF has worked with Solectria for about a decade and is consulting with the company during the design process to ensure the inverters are compatible with utility cybersecurity and data requirements.
"With all the turmoil in our industry, it's nice to be able to work with partners who are pretty stable," he said.
Resor is comforted by the fact that Solectria is backed by a global company like Yaskawa.
"They have the big balance behind them and it seems they are committed to the inverter market they serve," said Resor.
EDF would like to work with suppliers of inverters that have a stability of at least five to ten years. Resor said that Solectria tick that box.
"We want reliable product quality and the continuity that they will be there because we build these systems for 35 years and we want devices that will last," said Resor. "Ideally, we want the provider to be there when a problem arises."
Although Solectria sticks to the design of its inverters, problems inevitably arise with the hardest-working components of solar systems. The company believes it is one step ahead of the competition when it comes to servicing inverters, partly because it is based in the US.
"We are able to serve customers and projects faster and more efficiently than others who are in their resources around the globe," said Russell.
The great solar developer Ameresco can confirm this. The company is headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts and is trying to use Solectria inverters for solar string inverter projects, said Luis Alegria, director of solar PV development technology at Ameresco.
"We prefer to buy from (Solectria) even if we have to pay a little more because they are here and the service is right here," said Alegria. “You have a problem with an inverter. We call them right away and they usually respond either the same day or the next day. That's why it's a great benefit to be so close and local. "
EDF & # 39; s Resor appreciates that Solectria is based in the US, but said it isn't the most important factor when choosing a manufacturer.
"Having some of the products made in the US can have some benefits. Your lead times can be shorter and it is easier to see the plant." Ultimately, however, we are looking for quality, reliability and a competitive price, ”he said.
Solectria's US roots can also allay some fears revolving around inverter cybersecurity. Rather than focusing on niche markets to keep a head start in the market, Solectria has sought to position itself as a leader in cybersecurity efforts. Russell, who represents Solectria, is part of a team that works with NREL and Sandia Labs to optimize communications encryption for distributed energy resources.
“We know exactly what is important about this technology and how we can best proceed to ensure that we can continue to use solar safely in the grid and have a stable and resilient grid, and we are confident that these resources will be used can be eliminated if necessary and not easily by those who want to harm it, ”said Russell.
Solectria strives to be the leader in both inverter safety and inverter design. The company's latest release, the utility-scale XGI 1500, puts flexibility first.
The inverter has two combiner box options: a remote version where developers can distribute combiners across the array and feed power back to a central cluster of string inverters, and the other version that connects to the inverter itself when Developers both want to distribute the string inverters and combiners throughout the project instead of locating them centrally. In addition, Solectria is putting together a 1 MWAC rack solution using six of its XGI inverters.
Staying on the cutting edge of technology advances and cybersecurity, Solectria hopes to stay strong as a Made in USA option for installers near New England and beyond.