The global PV inverter market is forecast to reach $8.5 billion by 2014, growing at compound annual growth rate of nearly 25% according to a new report from IMS Research. The report also revealed that more than 7 million inverters will be sold in 2014, up from less than one million in 2009.
The new report from IMS Research also found that despite a factory-gate price decline of around 11% in 2010, revenues generated from PV inverters more than doubled, and exceeded $5 billion for the first time. In the longer term, positive growth is predicted to continue, despite on-going price reductions and architecture changes, and the market will double in size again in the next 5 years.
While the development of the PV inverter market is closely linked to PV installations, inverter demand became 'decoupled' from underlying installation growth in 2010 due to shortages, component bottlenecks and double-ordering. The resulting effects were large shifts in suppliers' market share and a major supply-demand imbalance. A bottleneck in component supply in early 2010, coupled with a booming German market led to a severe shortage of inverters, which was further compounded by customers double-ordering amidst the panic. This shortage affected some inverter suppliers much more than others, and suppliers such as SMA lost market share, whilst others such as Power-One captured major share.
IMS Research's latest report has confirmed that this shortage has now abated and the balance has shifted towards a major oversupply of inverters, with high levels of inventory recorded in Q4'10, leaking into Q1'11. PV Research Director, Ash Sharma commented "Despite the shortage of inverters at the beginning of 2010, IMS Research estimates that more than 2 GW of inverters were produced that were not needed. This has led to high inventory levels, both at suppliers' warehouses, and throughout the supply chain. This came as a direct result of double-orders being fulfilled and has also led to cancellations and push-backs of orders."
As a result of the shortage, many inverter suppliers announced major capacity expansions and total industry capacity was more than 30 GW in 2010 - double the year before. In spite of this massive capacity expansion, factory utilization actually increased significantly in 2010 to around 70%, hitting close to 90% in Q3'10. Aggressive capacity expansions are expected to continue this year reveals IMS Research and Ash Sharma commented "Inverter suppliers continue to add capacity, most notably in Asia and North America. A further 12-15 GW of additional capacity is planned to be added in 2011 which is somewhat surprising given the uncertain market outlook in 2012 and many suppliers are certainly not being cautious in their expansion plans."
Despite the high demand and tight supply in 2010, factory-gate inverter prices actually dropped steeply by around 11%, although many end-customers saw prices increasing significantly due to distributors capitalizing on the short supply situation. Declining prices were not however due to the increasing capacity, but in fact more linked to a mix change, with higher volumes being sold to Germany which typically commands lower prices. In 2011, some like-for-like price declines of 10-15% are predicted, however a shift away from Germany will help adjust the mix once more and support a more modest average price decline.
Although announcements from microinverter and power optimizer vendors grabbed the headlines in 2010, the biggest architecture changes came from traditional inverter suppliers with a dramatic shift toward small three-phase products, typically rated below 20kW. These products were in fact the fastest selling in 2010 and gained major share due to installers' preferences for these products in commercial installations up to 100-200kW. Very large inverters above 500kW also experienced high growth in 2010, with shipments increasing by more than 250% due to robust demand from MW-scale PV plants around the world.
In the longer-term, IMS Research predicts this will be one of the most promising segments of the market for a number of reasons, Ash Sharma commented, "Large central inverters above 500kW or even 1MW will become an increasingly attractive business area for many suppliers as high demand is anticipated from utility-scale projects in several countries, including the USA and India. In addition these products are typically highly engineered, with advanced functionality and design which attract healthy margins and also prevent low-cost competitors from stealing market share."