Interview: A Cheaper Inverter is Not Always a Better Option for Solar Projects

For solar project developers in the country, the decision to choose one inverter over the other is becoming increasingly difficult, given the rapid expansion of the segment, and numerous entrants struggling to make a mark.

In India, there are over 30 inverter suppliers meeting the demands of the rapidly-growing solar market. In 2017, the top ten solar inverter suppliers accounted for over 85 percent of all systems according to the Mercom India Solar Share Tracker. The market share for string inverters is still miniscule in comparison to central inverters, which enjoys approximately 90 percent of the market share. Mercom’s recently released India Solar Market Leaderboard 2018 report covered the top inverter suppliers for 2017. ABB leads the solar inverter market in India with a 19 percent market share followed by Sungrow with 16 percent and Huawei with 13 percent.

Given the rapid pace of development in this niche sector, Mercom decided to talk to the frontrunners of the inverters’ market to understand their challenges, struggles, and the overall outlook of the industry.

Inverter suppliers in the country have been sharing the burden of the ongoing uncertainties in the market with the rest of the domestic renewable industry. In a conversation with Mercom, Sunil Badesra, the India business head at Sungrow, echoed these sentiments of the industry on the current market ambiguities and emphasized the need to innovate in order to take this sector to the next level.

Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

What are some of the challenges facing inverter suppliers?

 The major challenge which the solar industry and inverter suppliers have faced in last one year is the uncertainty in the mind of developers and EPCs. This is due to confusion in tax and duty ambiguities, which has impacted the solar market and resulted in delay of tenders and orders from customers.

How has rupee depreciation affected inverter vendors? Are suppliers absorbing the costs or can you pass it on to developers?

 The pressure to lower down inverter prices is always there from the developer and EPC side. However, as an inverter supplier, it is very difficult to say whether this pressure is due to lower tariffs and increased competition or due to the ongoing rupee depreciation.

How much price pressure are you seeing due to aggressive bidding by solar developers? How can inverter suppliers cut costs moving forward?

 There is no doubt that the continuous drop in tariff is putting a lot of pressure on inverter suppliers. However, at the same time when solar developers select components for their projects, they also need to understand that taking inverters at lower price is not a solution to execute any project with lower tariffs. The customers need to find solutions which can optimize the cost of their project by giving them some savings through overall finances.

Initially, the projects used to get executed at 600 V, later markets moved to 1,000 V and currently at 1,500 V. Similarly, there was a time when customers were making 1 MW block size project, which gradually moved to 4-5 MW and now with Sungrow inverters, 12.5 MW block size has also been made possible.

 When it comes to string vs central inverters, which way is the market going?

 For utility projects where the land is flat, we see that customers are exploring only central inverters. For rooftop or small utility projects with uneven land, customers are exploring string inverters and this makes sense also due to multi Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT). String inverters also have high Capex/O&M costs and in addition monitoring challenges, making central inverters the best possible solution for utility scale projects.

 Everyone says energy storage solutions will be a game changer in India’s solar story? When do you think it will happen?

 Our data shows that the storage market in India is still going to take more time as battery prices are still not in line with the market expectations to make these projects feasible.

Where do you see growth opportunity for inverter suppliers beyond solar?

 In the recent past, we have seen notifications from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) on some big GW level floating and storage tenders and as Sungrow is already in this segment on a large scale in China, we would like to explore this opportunity in the future as well.

What are some of the positive developments for inverter suppliers lately?

 The ongoing, continuous drop in tariff in India is leading to new developments in the inverter segment and this has been possible with inverter suppliers like Sungrow who has a strong research and development (R&D) setup and capability to bring new innovative products in line with the market requirement.

Sungrow has started offering a wide range of solar inverters in India starting from 10 kW to 80 kW that covers residential, commercial rooftop applications and also expands this range from 80 kW to 3.125 MW for utility scale projects. Considering the Indian market potential and growth, Sungrow is establishing a local manufacturing and R&D setup here in India to design and develop products to meet Indian requirements.

Ankita Rajeshwari Ankita is an editor at MercomIndia.com where she writes and edits clean energy news stories and features. With years of experience in the news business, Ankita has a nose for news and an eye for detail. Prior to Mercom, Ankita was associated with The Times of India as a copy editor for the organization’s digital news desk. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Delhi University and a Postgraduate Diploma in journalism. More articles from Ankita Rajeshwari.