Enphase Energy continues its march into the commercial and industrial (C&I) solar market with its acquisition of Next Phase Solar Inc. (NPS), an operations and maintenance (O&M) service provider based in Berkeley, Calif.
Through the deal, Enphase intends to expand its own O&M business, which had heretofore been focused on supporting solar facilities equipped with the company's micro-inverter systems. Enphase Energy Services (EES) will be able to provide O&M support to C&I-scale solar facilities equipped with third-party inverters.
Marty Rogers, vice president of customer services and support for Enphase, says the acquisition expands both the company's U.S. footprint with additional locations and teams while positioning EES as a full-service O&M.
‘If you do service and support purely for Enphase, that's great for Enphase, but it isn't necessarily a business model for going across the market,’ Rogers says. ‘By buying NPS, it gives us the ability to be neutral on the product and go after the service and support around the general installed base of solar, which is getting larger and older.’
The move is a recognition that O&M services are growing as a lucrative source of recurring revenue. As Rogers points out, the number of solar sites in the U.S. at all scales continues to rise and the existing facilities are, naturally enough, aging. Moreover, as the solar sector matures, manufacturers and service providers are going to disappear – as many have already. EES is looking to step into the breach.
‘There is an opportunity to take over the work of others, and this requires us to be able to handle all sorts of systems,’ Rogers says. ‘But I also think that as we move forward, we can develop a complete asset management program, where we're looking at how we help people keep a higher retained value in the system long term – because over time, they are going to get turned over.’
The turnover of solar assets is also emerging as an important new business opportunity. Prior to the transaction, the buying party is going to want to see that there is real value in the asset. Is it really producing as contracted over time? Has it been maintained and kept up?
‘Just like if I want to buy a house, if I'm going to buy a $1 million commercial field, somebody has to be able to go out and tell me if there is value in it,’ Rogers says. ‘They have to be able to tell me, through historical records, that it has the real value. I think there is a big business around this activity. In fact, I know there is.’
According to Rogers, the NPS acquisition will help enable EES to move personnel to solar assets in desirable solar regions of the U.S. as required in a timely and cost-effective way.
Of course, inverters are notoriously individualistic creatures, which is why most manufacturers guard their architectures jealously. Enphase has made its Enlighten software a key component of its architecture. It features bi-directional communications that enable monitoring functions as well as updates to be pushed into the systems remotely. Although the NPS acquisition will enable Enphase to access third-party inverters, these will not be addressable through Enlighten, at least not initially.
‘Today, obviously there is no link between the Enlighten software and third-party systems,’ Rogers says. ‘But the concept of the platform is actually quite strong and the benefits of performing predictive monitoring through non-Enphase inverters is a true opportunity for us to go do development work with our software team. I definitely see us as a company developing some wings around that.’