PV Talk: The rise and rise of module-level power electronics

SolarEdge's Lior Handelsman. Image: SolarEdge.

Last month Israeli inverter manufacturer SolarEdge revealed it had sold its 10 millionth power optimiser. With half of those shipped in 2015, there appears to have been a discernible change in attitudes recently toward module-level power technologies. The company's co-founder and VP of marketing and product strategy, Lior Handelsman, explains why.

PV Tech: How significant is the 10 million-optimiser landmark for you?
Ten million is a nice round number. Since we began commercial shipments in 2010, we've shipped 10 million, and 5 million of those were shipped in the last calendar year. It's a strong indication for us that we are at an inflection point for our technology adoption. You go from early adopters to early majorities. We feel we are now moving into the late majority adopters; more and more companies are now adopting.

What does this say about general acceptance in market of module-level optimiser technology like this?
You can never be sure. But we believe it’s a combination of a growing understanding among solar companies that this technology brings added value; people are starting to see the value of added energy, better O&M, longer strings and safer systems.

Also we believe people are becoming more comfortable with SolarEdge as a company; we are now bankable, we are a public company with what we think is a strong support and service organisation. So part of this adoption is also related to the fact that people feel more comfortable with us.

PV Talk: The rise and rise of module-level power electronics

SolarEdge has shipped its 10 millionth power optimiser. Image: SolarEdge.

You mentioned the various benefits of power optimisers. From the feedback you get, can you give some further detail on what it is that customers see as being particularly beneficial?
From the very beginning module-level power electronics was strongly tied to added energy. People get that definitely when there are issues like shade power optimisers give added energy. But what people have come to see is that there is always some level of added energy with power optimisers.

Another benefit which now people are really able to see because of experience is the ability of module-level power electronics to provide so much more insight into a solar system. The bigger the system, the more you need that insight, the more you can reduce your O&M costs. So that is something that has a lot of value in residential solar, it has even greater value in commercial and utility scale solar. You have this system with tens of thousands of modules; instead of sending surveyors once in a while to sample a few modules, you can with module-level power electronics continuously monitor and that is a very valuable O&M capability.

The third option is SolarEdge-unique and that is the ability to install much longer strings so again for the commercial side of the business, people are trying to push PV system voltage from 1,000V to 1,500V in order to gain 50% longer strings. With SolarEdge you are still within the 1,000V range but the strings can be 200% longer. That's very valuable in terms of saving cabling.

Where are you seeing the greatest demand for your optimisers, both geographically speaking and in terms of segment?
A big share of our sales goes to the US market, but we also send a lot of optimisers and inverters to Europe, Australia and to a lesser extent the rest of the world and Asia. So our spread will be very similar to the sizes of the historical PV markets. But we have systems in more than 80 countries.

In terms of segment, residential is still our largest installed base and the largest segment we are shipping into. But we have a high percentage of systems both in commercial, which is now more than 30% of our sales, and utility.

How do you see the apparent trend towards module-level power electronics developing in the coming years?
We believe that eventually every module will have some level of module-level power electronics in it; whether it's for optimising energy or monitoring or safety or all of these, it's our belief that eventually all photovoltaic modules will have [this capability].

Tags: optimiser, solaredge, inverter