1,500V systems set to become norm for utility PV after 2016 - GTM

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A GE 1,500V inverter. Higher voltage is expected to become standard in utility PV systems. Image: First Solar.

Up to 4.6GW of PV systems will be built this year using 1,500V technology, making 2016 a “stepping stone” year towards mass deployment of the technology, according to GTM Research.

The solar industry’s awakening to the growing significance of 1,500V systems was arguably one of 2015’s big trends, with a swathe of module and other component manufacturers announcing 1,500V products.

Now, with the supply chain seemingly catching up with the higher voltage trend, GTM believes the industry is poised to embrace the technology as the universal standard for utility-scale systems.

GTM’s report, ‘1,500-Volt PV Systems and Components 2016-2020: Costs, Vendors and Forecasts’, predicts that 1,500V systems will account for some 9% of worldwide PV demand this year, equating to around 4.6GW.

According to GTM analyst and report author, Scott Moskowitz, that in itself is a landmark, with 1,500V systems accounting for only a very small proportion of demand in 2015. But that is just the beginning, with the higher voltage set to replace 1,000V as the standard for utility systems.

“The thing to keep in mind here is that 4.6GW is an absolute stepping stone to where the market will be,” Moskowitz said in an interview with PV Tech today. “The number we've published is 4.6GW, 9.2% of global utility demand this year; it's still a relatively small amount.

“And what we believe is that once the value proposition is proven out in 2016 of 1,500V systems, the supply chain is complete, developers are building these systems and they're saving money relative to 1,000V systems, 1,500V will become the default technology choice for utility-scale systems pretty much globally.”

Moskowitz added that the industry was well tuned in to the shift from the standard 1,000V to 1,500V as when a similar transition took place a few years ago – from 600V to 1,000V – some companies, particularly in the US, were left behind.

“In the US that 600-1000V transition caught a lot of companies off guard,” he said. “People did not expect it to happen that fast and because of that were a bit slow to enter the market with 1,000V products. So people are trying not to be the last to the party this time around and paying a lot of attention to when the demand for 1,500V systems is arriving and making sure they're prepared.”

Moskowitz said that supply chain and certification limitations had so far restricted take-up of 1,500V technology to all but a few pioneer companies such as Belectric in Europe and First Solar in the US. “However, these barriers have quickly dissolved and laid the groundwork for a market that will be increasingly made up of higher voltage systems.”

Last year, a number of module manufacturers announced 1,500V products, which are expected to find their way on to the market in 2016. After that, once the lower overall system costs offered by the higher voltage is seen by the industry, 1,500V will become the dominant technology, Moskowitz added.

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