The 2018 MLPE Solar Inverter Landscape

What is the current state of the MLPE market and what can installers expect in 2018?

MLPE solar inverter technology enphase solaredge sma power+

In a relatively short amount of time, module-level power electronics (MLPE) have solidified their reputation as a breakthrough method of solar power generation. MLPE solutions continue to rapidly expand into new markets: in fact, Scott Moskowitz of GTM predicted MLPE shipments to to grow by 18% annually through 2021 to reach a total of 9GW.  As more manufacturers follow the trend of MLPE, the industry will be forced to accelerate down a path of innovation to reduce the cost of solar installations. Furthermore, some module manufacturers including Jinko Solar and Hanwha QCELLS have partnered with Maxim Integrated to bring string-level optimization within the panel itself. Thus, as installers prepare themselves to surf this inevitable wave of MLPE improvements, we’d like to break down the product roadmaps for three leading inverter manufacturers: SolarEdge, Enphase, and SMA.

 

SolarEdge

Since beginning commercial shipments in 2010, SolarEdge has shipped approximately 6.7 GW of DC optimized inverters systems to over 120 countries. They currently manufacturer their HD Wave line of inverters, DC power optimizers, StorEdge inverters, an inverter-integrated EV charger, and advanced communications gateways. Here’s a rundown of their major product updates in 2018:

  • P505 DC Optimizer

    • Product features

      • Highest wattage residential power optimizer to date.  It supports bi-facial and other high current modules (e.g. 60-cell modules like Panasonic 330).

      • SolarEdge has removed the requirement to have  1" clearance on the bracket side on all power optimizers. All other sides retain the same 1” / 2.5 cm clearance as before.

      • It also offers support for shorter strings:
        • 6 modules (vs 8) for single phase 240Vac
        • 8 modules (vs 10) on three phase inverters for the 208V grid
        • 14 modules (vs 18) with three phase inverters for the 277/480V grid

 

SolarEdge DC Optimizers

 

  • What’s the difference between the P800p and P800s optimizer?

    • P800p: for parallel connection of 2x 96-cell 5” PV modules

    • P800s: for series connection of 2x high power or bi-facial modules

  • Phasing Out Old Optimizers

    • The P300 will no longer be produced. The P320 is backward compatible with the P300 and will now be the lowest wattage power optimizer available.

    • The P600 and P700 will also no longer be produced. The P730 is backward compatible with both of these products and will now be the lowest 2:1 power optimizer available.

 

Enphase

With over 16 million microinverters shipped since 2006, Enphase has established a reputation for innovation in the MLPE landscape. While Enphase will continue to improve the functionality and features of their microinverters with the IQ7 line in 2018, they also aim to penetrate the storage market like SolarEdge with their AC Battery Solution. Below is a synopsis of their 2018 roadmap:

Enphase Product Roadmap

  • Enphase IQ 7 & IQ 7+ Microinverters

    • Product Features

      • Smart-grid ready: complies with advanced grid support, voltage, and frequency ride-through requirements.

      • Lightweight and smaller than previous microinverters

      • Increase in peak output power

      • Parts reduction hopefully resulting in more competitive pricing

      • Seamlessly integrates with IQ Envoy, Q Aggregator, Enphase IQ Battery, and Enphase Enlighten software

  • Enphase IQ 7X Microinverters

    • Product Features

      • All the benefits of the IQ 7 product line

      • Highest system efficiency for 96-cell modules

      • Integration with Panasonic HIT for AC modules by the end of 2018

  • Enphase IQ Battery

    • Product Features

      • Lithium Iron Phosphate battery chemistry

      • 96% roundtrip cell efficiency

      • 1.2 kWh of energy storage with a warranty for 10 years or 7300 cycles.

 

SMA Solar Technology

Founded in 1981 in Niestetal, Germany, SMA has built its reputation on durability, reliability, and quality. As a global player in PV inverters, energy storage, and O&M, they are in a unique position to continually grow their product line with a whopping 65 GW of installed capacity to date. Much like SolarEdge and Enphase, SMA will also release a new storage inverter offering. The Sunny Boy Storage is the next generation of AC-Coupled architecture from SMA and is offered in 3.8 kW, 5 kW, and 6 kW sizes. In addition, after purchasing a 27% stake in Tigo Electronics in 2016, SMA recently launched their Power+ solution as they enter the MLPE marketplace. 

  • SMA Power+ Solution

    • Product Features

      • TS4-R Module Retrofit Kit accept a maximum of 475W and 12A

      • MLPE can be applied per module for operational simplicity or selectively for faster installations.

      • Module-level monitoring through award-winning Sunny Portal

      • Tool-free TS4 installation saves 75 - 90 minutes per system compared to other manufacturers.

 

 

 

As the pace of innovation quickens in the MLPE industry quickens, installers should plan their installations accordingly to comply with NEC 2017 code. To add fuel to the fire, Huawei, the $92 billion revenue-earning Chinese telecom giant, plans to release its FusionHome Smart Energy Home MLPE solution to distributors by the end of the year. If you have any questions on the above product lines or would like current pricing, please reach out to your dedicated Account Manager.
 

Further Reading