Tough times for EU inverter makers

The global PV inverter market grew by 5% in spite of falling prices to crack the $7bn mark for the first time, according to IMS, shaking off the falling revenues characterising much of the rest of the solar manufacturing sector.

The growth for inverters – which cuts a stark contrast with segments like modules and polysilicon, where revenues have been falling in spite of larger shipments – was driven largely by strong late-year demand in Asia.

As with modules and other PV components, the shift towards Asia presents a major challenge for the Western inverter suppliers that have long dominated the market, and particularly those based in Europe.

SMA, Power-One and Kaco – based in Germany, the US and Germany, respectively – once again held the top three spots globally.

However, the combined share of the three largest EU-based suppliers fell “dramatically”, IMS says, tumbling to below 20% in the final quarter of 2012 – compared to nearly 50% at the beginning of the year.

“SMA, which once was the undisputed market leader, saw its market share fall below 20% in the fourth quarter of 2012,” says Sam Wilkinson, head of inverter research at IMS, “the lowest level we have on record in over six years of analysing the market”.

Last month SMA finalised its acquisition of a majority stake in Chinese inverter maker Zeversolar in a bid to reverse its declining market share. But, says Wilkinson, “it remains to be seen if these actions will be aggressive enough as the PV market continues to fragment”.

Although the inverter business is growing increasingly globalised, it remains notoriously difficult for players from one part of the world to crack into other regions, where grid codes and laws may be markedly different.

It was not all bad news for Western players. Three of the world’s largest suppliers – Advanced Energy and Enphase in the US, and Danfoss in Denmark – each jumped at least four places in the rankings.

Advanced Energy recently bought Germany’s REFUsol, creating what may be the world’s third largest supplier.

Japan’s Omron, riding its surging domestic market, also leapt up the rankings, according to IMS.