SMA remains solar inverter market leader but others gaining, says IMS Research

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Continuing to be the market leader in solar inverter shipments, SMA Solar Technology increased its share of shipments to an estimated 42% in 2009, according to preliminary findings from IMS Research. Recently, SMA Solar reported record financial results for last year that highlighted sales topped €934 million, a 37% increase over the 2008 figure of €682 million with 3.4GW of inverter sales. The company then noted it had gained two percentage points over 2008, claiming a 40% share of the global inverter market. However, according to IMS Research, despite a record fourth quarter in 2009, its share actually decreased quarter-on-quarter.

The market research firm believes that the share decline was possibly due to severe component shortages, primarily semiconductor switching devices such as IGBT’s (Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistor), as well as other electrical components. Other inverter suppliers were able to ship more systems as SMA Solar tackled component supply constraints.

“Q4’09 saw huge demand for all PV products as investors rushed to complete systems before feed in tariffs were reduced in many key European markets. 2.3GW of installations were completed in Germany alone,” commented Sam Wilkinson, IMS Research PV Analyst. “This incredible demand resulted in 3.5GW of inverters being shipped worldwide in the final quarter. Demand has remained high into 2010 and we now see a complete contrast to the first half of last year with a shortage of components limiting the market, rather than weak demand.”

Recent checks by PV-Tech into IGBT production issues at key semiconductor suppliers of these devices highlighted that shortages were due to the overall increased demand for semiconductors across multiple markets. Supply issues were compounded by a weak demand cycle lasting five quarters that resulted in fab capacity utilization falling to as low as 40%.

Manufacturers have therefore withheld further capacity expansions and utilization rates are now in the 80 to 90% range, indicating a near-full capacity situation for semiconductor fabrication. However, this has yet to spark further expansions because of the conservative approaches that have arisen after a period of loss-making, and lead times have extended by as much as eight months in certain areas.

Component supply issues should ease in the second half of the year as production allocation improves, coupled to seasonal demand lows in the second quarter for many types of IC products, allowing priority product production shifts.

IMS Research also noted that Fronius International remained the second-largest supplier worldwide, and Kaco New Energy retained its position as third largest supplier.

Power-One and Sputnik Engineering surpassed several suppliers to become the fourth and fifth largest suppliers, respectively, in 2009.

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