By 2020, shipments of smart and AC modules - PV modules with module-level power electronics integrated into the frame - will more than double from today’s levels in an increasingly competitive space, according to a new report from GTM Research.

Smart and AC PV modules that have integrated power electronics are gradually gaining traction in the global solar market. Overall they will represent a gigawatt-plus market by 2020, GTM said. From 73MW shipped in 2014, the research firm expects the market to leap to 1.01GW by 2020. Meanwhile in economic terms, market value will leap almost tenfold. Worth US$70 million last year, GTM expects a value of US$603 million worldwide by 2020.

The technology, which gives PV system operators the ability to control and monitor their systems at module level, rather than from a central inverter, offers tangible opportunities for cost reduction, according to Scott Moskowitz, lead author of the report, 'Smart and AC PV modules 2015-2020: Technologies, value propositions and forecasts for module-integrated power electronics'.

“The PV industry is hungry for solutions that simplify labour, eliminate redundancy and lower overall costs. Each of these objectives can be accomplished with smart and AC modules,” Moskowitz said.

As GTM pointed out, the market is not only growing but features an expanding field of players. Enphase and SolarEdge have traditionally carved up the vast majority of the microinverter and DC optimiser markets respectively, which presaged the module-level power electronics era, with the module-level space dominated by a small handful of companies including Tigo Energy and Maxim Integrated.

While the market will therefore grow significantly by 2020, it will still represent a relatively small share of the overall PV module market. Falling costs, increased competition and reduced mark-ups for manufacturers will contribute to the overall share rising from around 3% to 7%.

Further impetus to activity in the module-level market could come from a revision to fire safety codes in the US: proposed changes to the US National Electric Code around PV systems are widely expected to include requirements that PV systems must be capable of being shut down at module level, rather than central inverter level.

This article and headline have been amended to clarify that the GTM Research report refers to smart and AC PV modules, which have module-level power electronics integrated into the frame of the modules.