Rapid growth of the solar photovoltaic industry in Europe in recent years has created an extremely fertile market for not only the solar photovoltaic industry, but also for the solar inverter industry. Inverters are devices that are installed in line with solar arrays to convert the direct current (DC) electricity it produces into stable, usable alternating current (AC) found in homes and on the power grid.
The market for inverters has been so robust, in fact, that analysts are suggesting the PV inverter market is set to more than double over the coming years, growing to an estimated $8 billion annually in the next four years.
But because of that healthy PV demand and the fact that there are a growing number of new entrants into the sector, the solar solar inverter industry supply chain is fluid at best, and a bit unstable at worst. And right now inverters are not easy to find in Europe. The situation has become serious enough to warrant a conference panel of its own to focus on the topic at an upcoming event in Germany.
Sure there are well-established players, but aggressive policy drivers are forcing inverter manufacturers–both old and new–to retool and stay current with new regulations. The constant need to keep current is putting increasing pressure on inverter availability. David Appleyard writes recently at Renewable Energy World:
“Alongside the push for ever greater efficiency and lowest cost of operation, another significant trend in inverter technology has been engendered by a tightening of the rules for grid connection in the EU. Under current directives, systems intending to connect to the grid must become progressively more sophisticated with the capability of supplying reactive power to support grid stability.”
One thing the tough European regulations do, besides keeping inverter manufacturers on their toes, is clear the way for a smarter electricity grid with small, reactive installations and two-way communication between electricity users and producers.
All indicators point to inverter supply chains freeing-up in the coming months as: 1) inverter component manufacturers roll out more efficient products; 2) established companies ramp-up production to meet growing demand, and; 3) major semiconductor firms with established distribution channels like General Electric, Advanced Energy and Siemens all make aggressive plays in the inverter sector.
Another variable that could have a significant impact on the availability of inverters in Europe this summer is the slashing of generous feed-in tariffs in Germany, Spain, Italy and France. The slated change in renewable energy price supports, scheduled for July 1, could even have the sudden and undesirable effect of turning a market shortage into a market surplus.
Follow Tim Hurst on twitter @ecopolitologist
Photo: ICMA Photos via flickr/Creative Commons
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