Network planning and grid control is an undeniable challenge as an increasing number of large-scale PV installations feed energy into the utility grid, but we see this shifting in the next 2-3 years.
Solar PV - Now and Tomorrow
Alan Beale | Solarmax USA
What is your take on the state of the solar industry today?
The U.S. solar industry has matured quite a bit over the past four years, but it has a ways to go. In 2013, the industry learned some major lessons and has now reached the tipping point in terms of learning curve. In 2014, I predict the ecosystem of industry players – including financiers, racking companies, inverters, etc. – will become much more efficient at installing and executing on projects. As more states come online, particularly the central and northeastern states, we are again poised for record U.S. growth in 2014.
Which parts of the world are advancing to solar energy the fastest and which are lagging?
European countries, like Germany, were early adopters of solar energy thanks to the help of feed-in tariffs launched in the mid 2000s. Since then, solar has taken hold around the globe and is experiencing explosive growth in areas such as the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, particularly China and Japan. Outside the APAC region, the United States is the leading the global solar market with record 4.2 gigawatts (GW) growth during 2013, according to NPD SolarBuzz (source: http://www.solarbuzz.com/news/recent-findings/record-2013-solar-pv-installations-promotes-us-strongest-market-outside-asia-pa). Tax credits and power purchase agreements will continue to play a large role in promoting and advancing solar projects in the US.
What has adoption been to date and how do you see this changing in 2014?
Adoption rates have varied across the different solar PV markets. For example, residential adoption of solar PV has been steady over the last few years, commercial/non-residential was flat in 2013 and utility adoption is strong and growing. I believe that three-phase string inverters for the 15 to 30kW range will have the highest growth rate in the U.S. over the next three years.
Are there any standards or best practices emerging for commercial PV application?
The U.S. as a whole is maturing when it comes to solar PV deployment, with particularly high experience levels in states such as California and Arizona. Generally, plant sizes up to 2 MW are seen as a comfortable and standard size for integration using 3 phase string inverters in the U.S., but I imagine we will see this change and follow European trends, where distributed PV plants are more in the 20 to 40 MW range. By the end of 2014, I think we’ll see a significant shift in the U.S. toward more 5 MW plants leveraging string inverters. The major decision factors will be ease of build out, maintenance and more stable energy yields.
What are SolarMax's competitive differentiators as the solar PV market heats up?
Solarmax’s sole focus has been PV inverters for over 23 years and our Swiss quality heritage has been a major cornerstone in our product innovation and leadership. We have historically taken a steady approach to the market, keeping our focus on delivering high quality products and passionate customer service. Our Atlanta office, the center of our U.S. sales, service, technical support, product development, R&D and certification teams, is an additional advantage for customers in the U.S. market.
Are there new technologies in development for the inverter space or are we at a point where focus is on small improvements of existing technology?
I think it’s both. Solar PV inverters are already reaching the point of near perfect efficiency but this will continue alongside silicon carbide component advancements. Energy storage is also a major area to watch as the industry looks to extend the usefulness of PV solar and make it more desirable and cost competitive.
Are micro-inverters practical for large-scale applications?
At SolarMax, we believe that central and string inverters are the more cost-effective, reliable and easy-to-manage solution for large-scale installations. Since micro inverters are a newer technology, there is not enough long-term performance data to validate its reliability. In addition to a higher initial cost, micro inverter repair and replacement can become expensive and time-consuming given the high number of devices in the field.
What solar industry advancements should we watch out for over the next 2-3 years?
Aside from carbide component advancements and storage, the most important advancement will be more sophisticated integration with the grid. Network planning and grid control is an undeniable challenge as an increasing number of large-scale PV installations feed energy into the utility grid, but we see this shifting in the next 2-3 years. Better integration and interconnection will provide the opportunity for utilities to embrace distributed PV solar and improve overall service to their customers.
About Alan Beale, general manager, Solarmax USA, Inc.
A high-tech and PV solar industry veteran, Alan Beale, heads SolarMax’s U.S. office and leading sales, marketing and growth in the U.S. market. Beale came to SolarMax from REFUsol, where he was vice president of sales and marketing. Prior to that, Alan has led a long career in technology including executive leadership roles at Canesta, Immersion Corporation, SGI and General Electric. He received his mechanical engineering degree from Clarkson University and has lived in locations around the world including England, Germany, Brazil, Asia, Detroit, and Silicon Valley. He currently resides in Atlanta, GA, with his wife and two sons.
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