Global PV inverter shipments declined to 4 GW in the first quarter of this year (Q1'11) – 39% lower than the previous quarter, but 31% higher than in Q1'10, according to IMS Research's latest quarterly report on the market.
Rising channel inventory in markets such as Germany, Italy and France contributed to the disappointing first-quarter results. The report is based on actual sales and shipment data from 35 of the largest PV inverter suppliers, including the largest Chinese vendors. It revealed that although the first quarter of the year is traditionally weak for the PV inverter industry, the 39% sequential drop in Q1'11 shipments was much larger than the 17% drop seen a year earlier.
‘Q1'11 was a difficult quarter for inverter suppliers,’ says Ash Sharma, PV research Director at IMS Research. ‘Inventory began to build in late 2010, and this continued with order cancellations common for suppliers during the quarter. Q1'11 is now the second quarter in succession where shipments have fallen.’
Following a trend seen in late 2010, Germany continued to become less important to the PV inverter industry in Q1'11, according to IMS Research. Since the company began tracking quarterly shipments, Q1'11 was the first quarter when Italy had a larger market than Germany, with over 1.2 GW shipped.
Inventory may be a likely destination for the inverters, given that uncertainty caused by a review of the Italian feed-in tariff (FIT) in Q1'11 halted project financing and stalled the market.
‘Even with uncertainty during the quarter, inverter demand stayed buoyant, with installations still being completed from the previous Conto Energia FIT scheme, which expired at the end of 2010,’ Sharma says.
Germany's falling share of the inverter market was also apparent in the results of its supplier base, with many German suppliers losing share of the global market, the report adds. Market leader SMA Solar Technology reported quarterly results that were down on the same period in 2010. U.S.-based suppliers, such as Satcon and Advanced Energy, continued to perform strongly, because they were less exposed to the stalling European markets.
IMS Research predicts only slow growth in demand for inverters in Q2'11, because several gigawatts of inventory is being held throughout the supply chain. Weak demand in Europe is not clearing the inventory quickly enough for strong growth to return, the company says.