The Marriage Between Developers and Inverter ManufacturersFri, 02/01/2019 - 13:58
When evaluating supplier costs, many developers simply consider the initial installation price of a given site. But according to Phil Vyhanek, President of inverter manufacturer Yaskawa Solectria Solar, they should add the cost to operate the site over 20 years into their calculations. “When talking about the latter, which is what the industry should be talking about, we provide the best value,” he says. “It is not about the initial purchase price but about being able to guarantee the reliability, dependability and ease of maintenance of that site over the lifetime of the PV asset.” He says this is what Yaskawa tries to emphasize as a company. “What the developer is buying into is not simply an inverter; it is buying into our company.” he says, adding that, while many power or consumer electronics are simply throwaway solutions that last for around one year, PV equipment must endure 20 to 30-year life cycles. “Not only does it need to operate on Day 1 but it also needs to operate at the same level in Year 20,” he says. “This means developers need a partner that will be there when they need support. This is what Yaskawa provides.”
Yaskawa acquired Solectria in 2014 and the company is now the largest commercial PV inverter manufacturer in the US, delivering PV inverters to the residential, commercial and utility-scale segments. Combined, the company is over 100 years old and has a value of US$4.6 billion, manufacturing over 2 million inverters per year. According to Vyhanek, that attention to quality and long-term history gives Yaskawa one of the best reputations in the world. “When looking at the market today, the quality of the product is paramount and that is what our customers should be willing to buy,” he explains. “Our desire to provide the highest-quality unit is exactly in line with the industry’s desire to have the lowest levelized cost of energy over the lifetime of that plant.” As a Japanese company, the manufacturer’s presence is strongest in Japan and in the US but Vyhanek says that, when looking at expansion, Mexico was the natural next step. “Our XGI product line is designed, engineered and manufactured in the US so it is NAFTA compliant and we see Mexico has enormous solar potential,” he says.
This vision is shared by Mercedes Pereyra, the company’s International Product Manager, although she admits there was a slightly false start initially. “We saw the promise in Mexico for many years, as the country has the largest solar potential in Latin America,” she says. “We were here for several years but nothing really happened.” Now that the first energy auctions have kicked off and the first projects are becoming a reality, she says the company is working to anticipate the needs of the changing industry and developing products to meet them. To do this, Yaskawa is launching a new 1,500V inverter and hopes to target the winners of the upcoming auctions. “We want to try to focus more on the utility and commercial segment as this was our strength in the US,” she explains. “The new line was being developed in 2018 so in 2019 we will be able to take advantage of all these opportunities and the contacts we have established in Mexico.” For utility-scale, she says Yaskawa wants to target the global players it has already worked with in other jurisdictions. “If you want to do business with Enel, you have to go to Italy,” she says. “We are targeting EPCs in Mexico and trying to leverage our existing clients globally.”
Two product lines that Vyhanek predicts will be successful in Mexico is Yaskawa’s XGI next generation grid-connected inverters. The 1,000V product will be targeted toward the commercial rooftop or small ground mount setting, while the XGI 166 kW inverter will be designed exclusively for ground mount systems with distribution flexibility. “This product has the capacity to be deployed in a centralized or decentralized layout but it is still only one piece of equipment,” he says. “This provides EPCs and developers with ultimate design flexibility and, through the use of a single unit, flexibility in terms of O&M.” He says in all likelihood this will be by far the preferred model going forward. Yaskawa’s distributor in Mexico is Pillar Mexicana, and Vyhanek says this decision was not entered into lightly, given the long-term business relationship implicit in buying an inverter. “We build our reputation not only on the quality of our products but also on our service and client relationships,” he says. “Our relationship with our customers is really like a marriage – when they choose to buy our products they have essentially chosen to do business with us for the next 20 years over the life of the proje