SMA Solar co-founder dies

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One of the founders of PV inverter maker SMA Solar Technology, Günther Cramer, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 62 after a “long, difficult illness,” the company has announced.

The company said it was mourning the loss of its former chief executive, describing him as “a courageous visionary and pioneer in the global energy transition”, who had foreseen “the decentralised, renewable energy supply of the future early on and never deterred from turning his vision into a reality”.

In addition to his work with SMA, Cramer was committed to a vision of bringing electrification to rural and remote parts of the developing world and led the Günther Cramer Foundation to that end.

Cramer founded SMA in 1981 along with partners Peter Drews, Reiner Wettlaufer and Professor Werner Kleinkauf in Kassel, Germany. The company’s first mass produced PV inverters were launched 10 years later in 1991. Introducing string technology in 1995 and Sunny Island, the company's first off-grid inverter with battery storage in 1999, SMA floated in an IPO in 2008.

Cramer moved from the managing board to the supervisory board in 2011. He was recipient of the prestigious Deutscher Umweltpreis (German Environmental Award) in 2012 for his “groundbreaking technical developments and his personal engagement for photovoltaics”.

Cormac Gilligan, senior solar supply chain analyst at I.H.S Research said today that although he did not know Cramer personally, the company’s long-standing success owed much to the strategic vision of its board and founders. Additionally, although SMA’s market share has been somewhat eroded of late in an increasingly competitive space, Gilligan said it was and remains the company that many other manufacturers “sought to emulate in terms of quality”.

“To have founded one of the biggest companies in one part of the supply chain, he obviously was a very important person in terms of the solar industry in general,” Gilligan said. “Over the last few years SMA has been and has remained the number one supplier in the market. Up until a few years ago they were so dominant in the industry that they had over 40% market share – and albeit that their market share has started to be eroded – they have and are perceived as one of the premium suppliers in the market place,” Gilligan said.

“This would I suppose stem from the founders’ belief in what they stand for,” he continued. “They stand for some of the highest quality products … and this has really put them in a good position. And then over the last few years, as they’ve noted that their home market has declined, they’ve really been positive and among the first movers into new markets.

“They’ve opened a manufacturing plant in South Africa and they have a big presence in the US, which is obviously one of the key markets. They have even been one of the few western suppliers really to put a lot of energy and emphasis into the second biggest market in shipment terms, Japan, and they have a presence there. Equally they’ve noted that the Chinese market cannot be ignored and that has led to their acquisition of Zeversolar and I’m sure the founder was involved in this decision making.”

Despite the passing of one of its founders and key supervisory board members, Gilligan believed SMA’s strong footing in the global picture and leadership would allow it to maintain a position as a premium brand: “They obviously have a very strong board and will be well positioned to cope with this sad loss.”

SMA’s current chief executive officer, Pierre Pascal Urbon, described Cramer as “extraordinary” and an “inspiration”.

 “In Günther Cramer, we have lost an extraordinary person whom we will never forget. As the company founder, CEO and chairman of the supervisory board, he shaped the history of SMA and its employees throughout his entire life. His courage, passion and commitment to the energy transition will always continue to serve as a model and an inspiration to us.”

The managing director of the SMA subsidiary through which Cramer’s foundation worked on rural electrification projects spoke of his motivation and drive.

“Günther Cramer set real standards in his endeavors to advance renewable energy and the industry,” Volker Wasgindt of cdw Stiftungsverbund said.

“His environmental and social commitment were unparalleled. Günther Cramer will always have a lasting place in our hearts, not only due to his achievements but also as an exceptional person.”

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