Moore's Law begins to shake up solar industry

The solar market, in an effort to increase efficiencies, thinks it needs module level power management (MLPM) to help. In turn MLPM products on offer can look forward to a fast climb, as nearly 40 percent of residential installations will have them installed in 2014.

Shipments of MLPM will reach 6.2 gigawatts in 2014, rocketed high on the back of demand from the current figure of only 160 megawatts. By 2014’s end, residential PV installations will be using MLPM – where you will find microinverters and optimisers – by 38 percent. In 2010 the figure stands at two percent.

The reason, say analysts at IHS iSuppli, is simple. There is the potential to up efficiency and increase electricity production by up to a quarter. “A new approach to increasing PV efficiency,” according to chief research analyst Greg Sheppard.

Installing PV into homes is attractive because there are also labour savings and improved safety on the card. While regular PV uses the “three efficiencies” – that’s conversion, manufacturing and materials – MLPM uses management of modules through semiconductors. Knowledge of high-voltage DC is minimal for setting up compared to the panels that do the rounds today.

MLPM is particularly popular in the United States and Canda, where microinverters are the most bought technology. Using microinverters does add $0.20 to 0.25 per watt for installations and optimisers add $0.15 per watt. But, because of the semicondcutors, MLPM benefits from the cost reduction that goes along with Moore’s Law. IHS iSuppli believes the average selling price for microinverters will drop from $0.88 in 2010 to $0.29 in 2014. Similarly optimiser prices will fall from $0.18 in 2010 to $0.08 in 2014.

Currently, for microinverters, one company is really leading the charge: Enphase Energy holds over 90 percent market share. There are others in the space, like Enecys and SolarBridge Technologies, but they are newcomers. SolarEdge Technologies is close to having a 70 percent share of the optimiser market. However, with the clear potential and cost benefits of MLPM technologies, it’s forecast that plenty more will enter the market with their own particular products.

The enormous inverter company SMA Group is thought to be entering the fray in the near future.

For a relatively new market, healthy competition already exists, with at least 15 confirmed companies in MLPM according to IHS iSuppli. Predicted growth rates are positive.