Relative to market dynamics, we are seeing more markets reducing or eliminating incentives. Whether it’s net metering or the ITC, the industry must account for changing financial models.
COVID-19 & Looking Ahead to 2021 and Beyond, Insights from SMA America
Q&A with Brad Dore Director of Marketing | SMA America
Tell us about yourself and your company.
SMA is a global solar, storage and energy management technology leader and offers a diversified portfolio of solutions for residential, commercial, and utility power. The company is present in every major PV market and boasts more than 100 GW of installed capacity worldwide.
How has COVID-19 changed the way your company does business?
As a manufacturer, SMA was very fortunate. Our facilities are located in Germany and were never forced to close. Europe’s strong initial response and subsequent management of the situation allowed our production site in Germany to continue, while additional safety measures were implemented to protect employees. Downstream, office personnel were transitioned to a remote (i.e. at-home) model. Travel restrictions as well as the cancellation of most in-person industry events meant most face-to-face interactions had to become virtual. In some ways, this brought us closer to our customers. SMA aggressively ramped its digital support, increasing the frequency of online trainings and launching an Online Service Center in several key markets, including the U.S. The pandemic incentivized us to get more creative in how we interacted with project stakeholders and customers. As a testament to the resiliency of the solar market, the industry’s performance – not just SMA’s -- was truly remarkable in 2020.
Have your growth and investment plans changed in the wake of COVID-19?
While COVID-19 impacted the industry in many ways, the fundamentals behind the PV and storage markets remain strong. Additionally, with an administration in the White House that understands climate science, the outlook in the U.S. is brighter than it’s been in several years. The pandemic has changed how business is done and we expect some of those changes to be lasting. The core tenets that SMA adheres to, including our commitment to technology leadership, quality, and service remain unchanged.
During this pandemic share with us some of the new products and services your company has introduced and how you were able to continue to innovate under the circumstances.
One feature that received a lot of attention in 2020 was our ShadeFix Optimization technology, which is integrated in our residential and commercial solutions. A study conducted at the University of Southern Denmark showed SMA Sunny Boy inverters with ShadeFix outperformed traditional module-level optimizers. When paired with SunSpec certified rapid shutdown devices, this solution reduces the sensitive componentry on the roof by 50%, which increases reliability. This simplicity led installers to call our residential solution the easiest to install and operate on the market.
In the utility segment, SMA began shipping two new offerings in volume. The Sunny Highpower PEAK3 is a modular inverter solution that blends the advantages of a distributed inverter with a centralized design approach. The model has been enthusiastically adopted by developers working on small utility projects. The solution also proved popular in community solar where, as a 1,500 VDC inverter, it’s direct interconnection at 480 VAC created the lowest installed cost and greatest energy production. For large utility projects, SMA’s newest centralized solution – the Medium-Voltage Power Station – offered flexible power classes up to 4.6 MW. The solution is delivered pre-configured on a 20-foot container-integrated skid, easy to transport and quick to commission. It can also be configured for DC-coupling for large-scale storage integration.
Relative to service, SMA debuted several new measures to support our installation partners. The SMA Service App simplified onsite residential and commercial service. The Virtual Support App enabled more effective large-scale service. SMA’s Online Service Center debuted in North America as well. Installers can now access resources that previously required calling a service technician. Customers can track the progress of a service case, inverter exchange or request a rebate, sign up for an extended warranty and update delivery details. Service was also empowered by SMA Smart Connected – a proactive service technology that leverages the company’s experience servicing 90 GW of installed capacity. The smart technology actively monitors an inverter and will proactively contact the owner or installer when problems arise -- or even before they become critical. Depending on Smart Connected’s analysis of the inverter, remediation recommendations and even replacement devices can be shipped before the owner is even aware of a potential issue. This can eliminate the need for a diagnostic truck roll, which installers found fantastic.
What are the biggest challenges facing the solar industry today?
The solar industry has experienced many years of growth – and the future is still very promising. However, as the share of solar power on the grid grows, storage and energy technology are becoming increasingly important. PV assets must continue to play grid supportive roles. Relative to market dynamics, we are seeing more markets reducing or eliminating incentives. Whether it’s net metering or the ITC, the industry must account for changing financial models. Along with these technology and market challenges, the industry must also address how to maintain, repower, or replace aging systems – and do so in an ecologically responsible way.
What has you optimistic about Renewable Energy in 2021 and beyond?
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the solar industry is thriving. Costs continue to fall, and companies are innovating as fast as ever. Solar and wind already account for far more new power capacity than natural gas or coal on an annual basis; a renewed domestic commitment to fighting climate change promises to be the catalyst that takes us to the next level.
Brad Dore is the director of marketing for SMA America, the U.S.-based subsidiary of SMA Solar Technology AG, headquartered in Germany. Dore is responsible for leading the efforts of SMA America’s marketing team to support product and service sales throughout North America. He directs all marketing efforts and drives public-facing activities for SMA, including advertising campaigns, public relations and social media efforts to ensure consistent communication throughout all segments of the photovoltaic industry.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag
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