Asset Management, O&M, Solar

For Solar Inverters What Difference Does One Percentage Point Make?

Last week at Solar Power International, major inverter makers GE and Huawei unveiled systems that each hopes will mean big savings in the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for solar PV power plants.

At SPI, GE unveiled its LV5+ solar central inverter that uses a Silicon Carbide (SiC) chip. The robust SiC chip (left), already in use in applications such as health care and lighting, is only one small part of the new 1500V inverter but it results in an approximate 1 percent increase in annual energy production, according to GE. The company calculates that the new technology, which represents 20 years of development and $100 million in R&D dollars, could result in approximately $2.2 million in additional revenue per 100-MW solar PV plant in the U.S.

Peter Oram, Global Commercial Lead, Renewables, GE Power Conversion said in an interview that the company is in the process of setting up a complete automated fabrication line for the SiC chip in New York state.

“That comes on-stream at the end of next year,” he said, adding that commercial production of the new inverter will ramp up in 2018.

Once commercially available, the LV5+ inverter will be sold as a standalone product or as a complete BOS system, called the Solar E-house solution.

GE’s new LV5+ Solar E-House solution is a complete power station that will also lower Operating Expenses (OPEX) by enabling power conversion systems to “switch off” at night, reducing nighttime losses that can add up to big savings over the lifetime of the plant, said Oram. GE calculates that the system enables plant operators to save up to $820,000 per 100-MW solar PV plant, combined with the extra revenue from increased efficiency giving a total benefit to the operator of over $3 million per 100-MW solar PV plant, according to the company.

The plug-and-play solution reduces installation costs because it houses all of the balance-of-system components in one complete “house.”

Huawei Enters US Market

Huawei (pronounced whah-way) is a $60 billion global technology player but is still relatively unknown in the U.S.  However, Bates Marshall, the company’s new vice president & general manager for its North America Smart PV Plant Solution, hopes to change that.

At SPI, the company officially introduced its 1500V string inverter solution (right) to the North American market, which the company said is the first 1500V string inverter in the world. 

Marshall explained during an interview that while it’s well-known that string inverters offer additional benefits to solar PV project owners such as increased energy production and lower O&M costs, because the Capital Expenditure (CapEx) historically was higher developers needed a reason to pay more for the solution. He said the Huawei inverter value proposition promised to bring these well-known benefits to customers with no CapEx premium — and sometimes even at a CapEx discount compared to traditional central inverters. 

The Huawei inverter utilizes a NEMA 4X enclosure and a cooling concept that removes failure-prone external fans.  Marshall explained that the company studied the most common failure areas in inverters and eliminated them: the Huawei inverter has no external fans, no filters, and no fuses. As a result the inverter requires nearly no preventative maintenance.

Marshall said a recent TUV report on a 200-MW utility-scale project measured the availability of the Huawei inverter as 99.996 percent, almost two percentage points higher than guarantees available for other inverters on the market. This increased availability could reduce the CapEx of the project by up to 3 cents per watt by reducing the amount of solar PV modules needed to make the equivalent amount of power, said Marshall.  In a 200-MW system, this would result in a CapEx savings of $6 million. To use a 100-MW power plant example, Huawei’s CapEx savings would be $3 million.

Huawei has shipped more than 35 GW of string inverters to date — 10.5 GW in 2015 alone — and Huawei inverters are in use in some of the largest solar PV plants in the world in Asia and Europe. Huawei’s single largest site worldwide is a 2-GW single-site plant located in Yanchi, China — the largest solar PV plant in the world. 

Initial shipments of the Huawei 1500V solution to North American EPCs are expected in Q4/2016.