By Eric Wesoff
Power-One (Nasdaq:PWER), the world's second largest central PV inverter firm, just announced the launch of a new 300 watt microinverter as well as a DC/DC power optimizer -- marking the first entry in the distributed electronics space of an established central inverter player.
There will soon be more firms entering the fray, according to our sources.
We've covered the potential benefits of distributed electronics at length in our solar coverage at Greentech Media. There are potential energy harvest gains, potential design flexibility, and potential reliability gains. There is some question as to whether the microinverter solution or the DC-to-DC power optimizer architecture is the way to go. Power-One avoids that argument by introducing a product for each of those architectures.
Power-One claims efficiency ratings of up to 95.5 percent and a micro-inverter that is electrolyte-free. That would mean that Power-One is avoiding the use of electrolytic capacitors, which can come with reliability risks if designed by engineers who don't know how to design with electrolytic capacitors. Enphase, the leading microinverter firm, uses electrolytic capacitors and has shipped about half a million units. Other microinverter firms like Solar Bridge use more reliable film caps in their designs.
Enecsys, claiming in a recent press release to be "the leader in reliable, long-life solar micro inverter systems for residential and commercial applications," has won $41 million in round B VC funding from Climate Change Capital Private Equity, Wellington Partners, NES Partners, and Good Energies.
Miroinverter manufacturers include those mentioned above, as well as Direct Grid, GreenRay, and Petra Solar. DC-to-DC optimizer firms include Solar Edge and Tigo Energy. eIQ markets a parallel DC solution. Tigo recently closed a $10 million venutre funding round and SolarEdge announced a partnership with Flextronics to manufacture in Ontario to qualify for the Ontario FiTs local content requirements.
Array Converter, the inverterless solar solution, doesn't really fit into either of those categories.
The big U.S. residential solar installers, solar leasing, and residential PPA companies are not entirely comfortable with the new breed of distributed electronics, be they microinverters or DC-to-DC approaches. The hundreds of thousands of microinverters shipped by Enphase and tens of thousands of units shipped by Tigo and SolarEdge have gone through smaller installers in the long tail. That could change soon. Note that the market share for smaller installers is gaining at the expense of the larger firms.
And while we're on the topic of microinverters, here's a widely circulated but unsubstantiated rumor: SMA, the world's largest manufacturer of central inverters, is due to introduce a microinverter in the next six months.